The Miracle of the Knee ~

According to my Fitbit I walked 458.57kms in the month of May – along the Portuguese Camino and thereabouts, and then later in France and Hungary.

Screenshot 2016-06-11 14.54.12

Why does this make the news?
Or at least this blog?

Because I walked those kms on a knee that doctors told me needs replacement.

As some of you who follow this blog might know, I have bad knee issues. On my first Camino I walked in extreme pain, and only completed the pilgrimage on painkillers.

Later, after an MRI, I was told I was bono-a-bono; that is, bone on bone – and that a knee replacement wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. 

I was told to get an elaborate knee brace, which I then dutifully wore on all my training walks, and on the 2014 Portuguese Camino, then last year’s Via Di Francesco Camino.


Let me be quite clear –
I don’t like doctors.
I don’t like medicines.
I don’t like knee braces.
And I particularly don’t like invasive surgery.

I have the odd and quaint belief that if you listen to your body, and you’re not silly about it, you can heal yourself.

Late last year, on my training walks, I began to walk without the brace. Short distances at first, and slowly. My knee railed against it. I got pain, and swelling. And I thought this would be a short lived experiment.

But I rested the knee, then began again. And gradually the knee settled down. And gradually I increased the distances, and the pace.

In preparation for this year’s Portuguese Camino I increased the intensity of my training so that I ended up doing about 100kms a week at about 6km/hr pace.

And my knee, surprisingly, held up.
So I decided to head off to Portugal without the brace.

It was a risk on my part. I really didn’t know how the knee was going to go. My training had been on relatively flat stretches of road. No hills, no uneven surfaces, no cobblestones. On the rocky and stony climbs of the Camino, would it give way?

As it turned out I only had a few days where my knee spat the dummy and pretended it wasn’t going to play anymore. But once again it settled down, and I think there was only one occasion where I took painkillers to get me through.

According to my surgeon I have no cartilage in my knee joint.
So what happened?
How can I walk these distances then, largely pain free?

I really don’t know. Other than I’ve been determined not to get a knee replacement, which is what the doctors say I should have.

I can’t explain it, in the same way I can’t explain how my eyesight returned after I walked my first Camino. I’d had glasses for fifteen years.

I haven’t worn any since.

It’s so easy to accept what the doctors, the nurses, the western medical professionals tell you. If you walk the Camino and you get a bad blister and you go to a doctor, what are they going to say?

It’s their duty to tell you not to walk. And in some instances they’ll tell you your Camino is over and you should go home. And in some instances that’s exactly what you should do.

But in a lot of cases instead of racing off to a doctor, why not simply rest up, listen to what your body is telling you, and trust in the healing power that’s innate within you.


9 thoughts on “The Miracle of the Knee ~

  1. Yes, Bill, it’s amazing what you can make your body do, if you fully engage your mind! Glad to hear you’re still ‘brace-less’ – may it last 🙂


  2. I have the odd and quaint belief that if you listen to your body, and you’re not silly about it, you can heal yourself

    If the body didn’t heal itself, our maximum life expectancy would probably be about 25.

    Bill, you’re lucky in being about average height and weight, so your knee has a lot less pressure on it than, say, my own knees do ; also though, with one bad knee, you eventually learn how to rebalance your movements, so that the knee has far less constant stress on it and so is less painful.

    Various non-invasive therapies work too, with variable results for varying individuals.

    But yes, also building your strength up, both muscling up and increasing stamina, as well as getting used to the specific pain, which includes your nervous system learning to ignore it, are all, exactly as you suggest, the best self-healing methods to return to functionality, leave the brace at home, and avoid surgery.

    And that’s not even to mention the “spiritual” or “psychological” element of learning to live with a condition as it is, at various levels, nor the rare cases of spontaneous cartilage regeneration (a very slow process where it occurs naturally — it’s a very rare mutation, still not fully understood), or the supernatural healing Graces that are even rarer — my favourite story about that is of a paraplegic man who went to Lourdes a few years ago in a wheelchair to pray for healing, and left on foot a few days later on the Way from Lourdes to Compostela to give thanks for the Healing miracle received.

    As for blisters, well, eventually the skin on the palm of your feet hardens up, and you almost never get them any more ; my worst one ever though was about half the size of a credit card, no skin just raw flesh — and it first manifested out in the sticks somewhere alone, with no medical cover, no help available, and 15-20 K still to go ; so I found out through having no other choice that the best treatment was clean woollen socks, and then basically just ignoring it. So I carried on doing my 40 K days, and the blister was basically painful only in the morning, then when removing the sock in the evening ; but during the day, the pain in the feet just from the hiking was identical to that from the blister, so it made very little difference on the trail.

    And eventually the flesh just toughened up, new more leathery skin grew, and the blister just slowly went away.

    Yeah Bill — the body heals itself, as BTW every good doctor will tell you. The doctor’s job is usually just to help ease the process.


    • Hi Julian, you speak with enormous experience on these things. I know what you mean about your feet toughening up when it comes to blisters. My heels, which had had blisters, eventually turned into a texture that was a little like glass. Impervious to future blisters.

      You’re right about getting to the state of mind where you can ignore pain. You have to understand intellectually the purpose of pain, and make sure that you’re not blanketing out “useful” pain. Pain that is part of your body’s warning system. But some firms of pain can be safely overridden for a time, and sometimes that’s relevant for blisters.

      Other times, ignoring blisters can lead to major infections and blood poisoning. So you have to monitor your condition, and as I said in my post, not be silly about it.

      The story about the gentleman at Lourdes is wonderful to hear, and I don’t doubt it for a moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We have similar experience of these issues, Bill, a similar approach to them (similar stubborn bloody-mindedness maybe ? LOL), though my own experience is lengthier, and it’s also quite possible I have the better doctor. OTOH, my second knee is failing too, now …

        You’re as right as it’s possible to be concerning “not be silly about it”, though a minor degree of silliness is acceptable, but then the more you understand what you can and can’t, should and shouldn’t, the less silly you’re likely to be 🙂

        Then again, I’ve been forced once into being barefoot on the Camino, don’t really recommend it, but even that is do-able. (I’ve only ever met one genuine barefoot pilgrim, not sure if that was on the Way to Compostela or Rome, and he told me that the feet eventually get used to doing that as well, so that he didn’t even feel the stones he was walking on !!)


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