Mountaineering 2011

My friend Daniel Jankowski and I go mountaineering once a year.  In August 2011 we climbed above the Saas valley in Switzerland.  A short trip and a minor weather interruption meant that we could only bag Allalinhorn (see photo above), but the beautiful climbing conditions more than made up  for the brevity. We also hiked/scrambled most of the way up Almagellhorn to get a great view of Saas-Fee basin.

On the way down I was a little tired in the legs, but nothing dramatic.  The next day I was a little sore/tight in the right hip, but again nothing dramatic.  I showed Dan around Geneva the following day and that’s when the pain started.  I left the day after Dan so I stayed at the Airport and with every hour the pain intensified.  I went to the infirmary at the airport and a doctor was summoned.  He gave me a shot of valium and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.  I thought it was delayed onset muscle soreness that had morphed into a grade 2 muscle tear in the external rotators of the hip.  The doctor thought it was more likely a piriformis insertion enthesopathy and he was probably nearer the truth. The piriformis muscle runs from the pelvis to the thigh bone and it turns the leg out when you walk.  I probably overworked the muscle to the point that it partially pulled away from the thigh bone, pulling some bone with it (enthesopathy).

The next day (without the benefit of muscle-relaxant and pain-killers) was agony with exquisite tenderness in the right buttock, lacerating spasms every time I tried to move my right leg and a crescendoing throbbing ache.  The flight home particularly uncomfortable.  I started to worry that the diagnosis was something worse.  At Accident and Emergency in London the attending doctor pretty much agreed with the Swiss doctor and prescribed me diazepam.

There are a number of morals to this story.

1) Never diagnose yourself.  First, I ignored the pain, then I took the most benign diagnosis to explain the problem, and then I started to imagine the very worst as the pain intensified (pain is a very poor predictor of pathology).

2) Rest and pain-management are the front-line treatments for acute musculo-skeletal injury.  Only very gentle osteopathic techniques would be possible at this stage and they would have moderate or marginal effects.

3) Forty-one year olds do not heal like eighteen year olds.

4) Mountains are beautiful.