Medial Gastrocnemius Strain – AKA Tennis Hokey Pokey

I’m playing doubles and it’s cold (LA’s version of cold not yours East Coast). The combination of it being a doubles match and a chilly winter morning means that I’m not going to overheat and if I’m being honest with myself I might not even warm up by the end of the two hours we have scheduled. In fact, I’m planning on a half hour on the elliptical when the match is over. It’s social tennis more than it is competitive.

On the court adjacent to us there’s a heated USTA doubles match happening. The women are my age and they’ve just spent ten minutes fighting over the score. The pro came out of the clubhouse to explain to them that they needed to go back to the last score they remembered, play from there and then everyone can appeal it with USTA after the match. There was more bickering and mention of eye rolling. We were all fascinated, entertained and a bit embarrassed for them. It was like watching 12 year old girls trade insults.

Back on our court I’m approaching the net and getting ready to poach a volley when I spring off of my right foot and just as my toes are pointed and I feel myself coming off the ground there’s a loud popping noise. Loud enough for everyone on the court to look at me in alarm. The ladies on the court next to us stop and look too. I feel something happen in my right calf but there’s no pain. I land and stand still sort of checking myself for injuries and determine that there are none. I think to myself that was strange. I go to take another step and as my foot flexes I feel pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt before or imagined. I am certain that my calf muscle has rolled itself up inside my leg and taken a bundle of nerves with it like a broken roller shade.

Did I mention that I’d never met any of these ladies before? That this is my new tennis club?

They help me off the court, I ice my leg and make the short drive home. I call my husband to cry to him but he’s on a conference call so I get the kids’ orthopedist on the phone. They can see me in three hours. I tell them that I’m going to go to the emergency room instead. It’s just too painful. The receptionist tells me to come in at the end of lunch and I may still have to wait up to the three hours but they’ll squeeze me in if they have time and I cry with gratitude.

The diagnosis is a Medial Gastrocnemius Strain. The doctor says it’s a small tear to the center part of the calf muscle and that it’s what he sees often in tennis playing women 30 and over (bless his heart for starting with 30 and not 40 just in case I cared – I don’t). The prognosis is good if I can manage complete rest, ice, compression and elevation for two weeks he thinks he’ll have me walking in two weeks and playing tennis in as few as four. We tried a boot but I’m not ready for that so I’m on crutches.

Here’s the dilemma. I have RA. I have just barely recovered from tennis elbow and the thought of putting all that weight on my already affected hands and wrists is daunting. The orthopedist then recommended a scooter and that’s when I lost it. He looked genuinely puzzled and asked me why I wouldn’t use one and I may have had a complete and utter meltdown while tossing out a few key phrases like: fuck fuck fuck, you mean like Wall E?, I’ll never be that old, my house has stairs everywhere, and I’ll just hop. He had this sort of bewildered expression that husbands sometimes get. I think perhaps I needed a therapist more at that moment than I needed a orthopedist.

The kids got home (thank you village for caring for them), Mr. G came home and dinner was delivered in styrofoam trays that will surely outlive both me and my compression bandage. We sat for dinner and after graciously asking me if I’d like a little scotch my son asked me about my leg. I told him about it, including the fact that it’s called “tennis leg”. He looked at me and said, “Didn’t you just get over tennis elbow?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you playing the tennis hokey pokey injury game?” He teased.

“Yes, Alexander. I think I just might be.”

Medial Gastrocnemius

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  1. Rent two scooters. Put one upstairs and one down. Crutches are so hard on your body. I developed plantar fasciitis on crutches due to doubling the weight on my good foot. With your hands, it can’t be good. Up and down the stairs on your butt, or send the kids. It’s so important to take care of the rest of you.

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