A picture of lower legs and feet on a white bed-like surface

Squats, hip dysplasia, and other inconveniences

The body’s first betrayal is always the most surprising.

I learned this the hard way on September 6th, 2019.

I was in a derby girl’s garage, working on a pole routine for a fundraiser that my former roller derby league was putting together. Given my history in doing aerial silks, it would be a relatively simple transition to do moves on a different apparatus. We were having fun and listening to a good rock/metal/alternative playlist while she taught me moves and I tried to mimic them.

I was actually doing pretty well when I did a deep squat on the ground, started to rise from my squatting position, and then heard a loud popping sound from my hip. The pain flooded through my body within seconds.

In retrospect, it’s kind of funny. Me, the person who has been knocked around doing derby and wrapped up and squeezed by silks 30 feet in the air, done in by a sexy squat.

My friend heard the pop from about six feet away and I remember the expression of shock on her face.

“Was that your knee?!”

“Nope, that was my hip.” I sank back to the floor in pain.

She was (rightfully) panicked and helped me over to the couch, gave my ice for my leg, and mothered me enough to make sure I wasn’t dying. In that moment I had pain, but I was sure that it would be fine in a couple of days. I left her house limping and with a promise that I would go to urgent care if I didn’t feel better the following day.

To my surprise and dismay, I was not better. In fact, I could barely walk without pain. If it were a month later, my Igor impression would have been appropriate for the Halloween season. As I’d promised, I called out from work since I literally couldn’t walk and made my way to an urgent care office. After the x-rays and physical assessment, the nurse practitioner said that I likely had a strain or tear in my labrum and to give it some time to rest with anti-inflammatory meds.

The rest helped a little, and the pain medications helped a little more, but life was different. I hadn’t really appreciated how being able to lift your leg forward or to the side could make such a difference in your quality of life. For the first two weeks I walked with a limp, any sudden movement forward or to the side caused a sharp jolt of pain that would shoot down from my hip bone to a few inches down my leg. Besides going to work I didn’t have much of a social life. No book clubs. No DJ nights. No walking around the town for my enjoyment. And definitely no skating or aerial moves.

An accurate representation of me being sad on the couch. Photo by Paolo Nicolello

Eventually I had to make an appointment to go to an orthopedic specialist because the pains were still there weeks later. One of my nurse friends at work badgered me into quickly making an ortho appointment saying that she lived vicariously through me because of her own health problems, so we both couldn’t be broken up.

The orthopedist was thorough and sharp as a tack, and I had more x-rays and another, more in-depth physical assessment. In addition to what was likely a tear to my labrum, I also discovered that I had (borderline severe) left hip dysplasia.

If you look up information about hip dysplasia, it’s not too comforting. There’s a lot of information about hip arthritis, arthroplasty, and total hip replacements. To think about hip replacements before the age of 30 is rather sobering and makes me wonder about what is possible for me in the future. I try not to think about it too much, but I do when my hip occasionally hurts from sitting in a car seat for too long, or I’m laying down in bed. Simple things like that.

To help me out with my hip, I got a prescription for physical therapy (and an MRI which I decided not to do). The physical therapy has been really helpful and is making me stronger. Essentially, the plan is to build up the muscles around my hip so that it’s less likely to pop out all over the place and for my labrum to slowly but surely heal itself.

When I started physical therapy, I felt so weak. All of the exercises that appeared simple were difficult and hurt. I lost my balance all of the time. It was a real hit to my pride, especially knowing that a few years ago I used to be able to balance with my feet only supported by someone else’s hands. Despite my hurting ego, I knew that my only way to get better in a reasonable time would be to do this.

I got introduced to the world of resistance bands. And clams. Photo by Geert Pieters

My physical therapy sessions were twice a week and I and was delighted to see improve to do the exercises that used to be so difficult for me and try new exercises of higher intensity. The day that I was cleared to get back on roller skates was exciting. And the day that I went into Moonlight Rollerway and skated in that open skate, I felt like I was flying.

The holiday season caused my PT visits to be sporadic because of family visits and moving across the city, but as of writing this article I am officially discharged from therapy! To continue my path, I’ve started going to a strength and flexibility class at an aerial studio that challenges me but also feels good.

I’m very lucky to be able to do this. A few years ago, I absolutely wouldn’t have been able to afford physical therapy. I probably would go to one session and do those exercises all of the time, and maybe try to find some YouTube videos to help. My leg would probably be hurting more frequently and who knows if I would be able to do something simple as running or skating. I recognize the privilege involved with being able to afford physical therapy and wonder how many others have a limp or worse because they couldn’t afford the therapy to improve their health.

In this process I’ve also been reminded that healing takes a long time, sometimes longer than what we expect. And even healing doesn’t completely take away the pain you feel.

I’m still in the middle of my healing, and I’m not sure where I’ll end up. My ultimate goal is to do silks again. If not, maybe some other unconventional sport will catch my attention and I’ll tell you all about that. I hate to think that my life of doing daring physical tasks will be cut short before I reach my prime.