Kneehab: Ghosts of ACL injuries past with Breckenridge snowboarders, skiers and coaches (video) | SummitDaily.com

Kneehab: Ghosts of ACL injuries past with Breckenridge snowboarders, skiers and coaches (video)

Editor's note: This article is part of an eight-week series about ACL, MCL and other knee injuries, featuring professional and first-hand info on surgery, rehab, recovery and prevention. See the Summit Daily sports section every Friday or Saturday for the next installment, and head online to SummitDaily.com for past articles.

Spring is the season of the knee injury.

Come closing weekend in Colorado, the number of ACL, MCL and other injuries related to skiing and snowboarding drastically increase across Summit County. Blame it on any number of things — slushy snow, massive park features, that warm spring sunshine — but March and April never fail to take a few joints and ligaments with them.

If you're currently facing a knee injury, I feel your pain, and so do dozens (if not hundreds) of other mountain-town locals. I blew out the ACL and tore menisci in my left leg in late February, and I'm now four weeks past ACL reconstruction surgery with another five to six months (at least) of rehab before life gets back to normal. It's a long, hard road, but it'll be worth the pain and price next winter.

During the course of an eight-week ACL series, I've interviewed at least 10 orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, pro athletes, amateur athletes and everyone in between about their experience with knee injuries. If I've learned a single lesson, it's that no one blown-out knee is the same — they're all special little snowflakes of tissue and tendon and PT torture. These folks have been candid with their experiences, sharing all the gory details, and they've taught me more than I ever thought I'd learn about a joint I tend to take for granted.

Here are their stories.

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 "I basically hucked myself onto a course with the mind of an 18-year-old and the body of a 36-year-old … Some good advice I got was a doctor (who) told me, 'You'll make a million good turns that don't put any unreasonable force on your knee joint at all. It's the million and first time, where you're a little past flexion and safety and there's a little stress in the system, with a little rotation all at once, and that's when it goes.' Well, there's a reason we love the sport, and it's because there is risk. And with great risk comes great reward."

Troy Watts, Team Summit Colorado alpine director and former U.S. Ski Team racer. Watts didn't blow his ACL until more than a decade after his pro skiing career, and he now uses the experience to help young athletes facing the tough prospects of a teenage knee injury.

"Emotionally was the biggest challenge: I just cannot believe this is happening again, that I have to go through it. (You) just have to have the patience and mindset to say, 'OK, I need to have little goals.'"

Tommy Gogolen, Summit High head soccer coach and U.S. Telemark Ski Team alum. Gogolen has torn his two ACLs five times as an adult and opted to skip reconstructive surgery after his most recent injury in November 2016. After six months, he says the knee feels fine and he's able to ski, run and bike.

"On the bright side, once it comes around, everything that before was just good is extraordinary."

Silvia Mittermüller, German-born World Cup snowboard slopestyle pro, talking about the feeling she gets taking her first few steps without crutches following ACL surgery. Mittermüller has injured her ACLs "three and a half times" during her career: once overshooting a jump, once undershooting a jump and once during a rail jam. After the third, she considered leaving the sport for good and has since gone on to make the podium at several World Cup events, including first in the Czech Republic in March 2016, while adding an Achilles injury to her collection.

"They're so good at the science now. All the physical therapists around here have gone through it so many times that it's literally down to a science. You just have to listen to what they say and not jump the gun."

Greyson Clifford, High Country Healing team snowboarder. Clifford blew out his ACL eight years ago, had it surgically repaired, and now has no issues with the aging injury, filming seven urban snowboarding edits in the subsequent years.

"Cannabis has played a huge part in my life with recovery, especially with all the injuries I've had in the past couple of years."

– Morgan Anderson, High Country Healing team snowboarder. Anderson first injured her ACL in 2016 and again in 2017. The second surgery led to an infection and she has now been under the knife five times to repair the damage from the injury and infection. A cannabis regimen calms her stomach and boosts her appetite when she feels body-sick from the infection.

KneeHab 101 series

Knee injuries are a part of sporting life in the mountains. Over the next few weekends, the Summit Daily sports section will print weekly articles about ACL/MCL injury, surgery, rehab, recovery and prevention, featuring interviews with local doctors, physical therapists and pro athletes. They’re the only knees you’ve got — show them some love.

Have a suggestion for the series? Email sports editor Phil Lindeman at plindeman@summitdaily.com.

Week 1 — “A club I never wanted to join,” injury column

Week 2 — Anatomy of an ACL/MCL injury

Week 3 — Yoga for ACL/MCL recovery

Week 4 — ACL surgery 101

Week 4 — “Slice, dice, make it nice,” surgery thoughts and fears column

Week 5 — Myth-busting for knee injuries

Week 6 — Post-surgery recovery, rehab and physical therapy

Week 7 — Man on the street: Summit locals talk knee injuries, video

Week 8 — “Betting on a long, hard road,” recovery column

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Mother Nature’s painkiller?

Blow your knee in Colorado and chances are good at least one person will suggest pot for pain relief. Smoke the hurt away, right?

It’s not a bad idea — universities across the world are slowly making sense of why and how cannabis is good for chronic health issues, from glaucoma to seizures — but it’s not as simple as rolling a joint and inhaling. For serious trauma injuries like an ACL or MCL tear, first consult your doctor about cannabis use, and then find a remedy that works best for you.

Morgan Anderson, a High Country Healing team snowboarder, currently uses marijuana to boost her appetite. She suffered an infection after her second ACL surgery, and when she feels ill with infection symptoms, cannabis is the one way to settle her stomach enough for lunch or dinner.

Micah Anderson, another (unrelated) High Country Healing snowboarder, uses concentrated CBD patches from Mary’s Medicinals to ease pain and inflammation directly on her injured knee. The patches aren’t psychoactive (although some come with CBD and THC), meaning they’re good for pain all day: before work, after work, before play, after play.

Cannabis is also an alternative to painkillers, which can cause irreparable damage to internal organs if abused. Drug-induced liver disease is linked to acetaminophen — the active ingredient in Tylenol, Vicodin and Percocet — and injures the liver to the point it no longer processes the drug. When that happens, the pills stop killing the pain.