Five months ago, I had reconstructive knee surgery to replace a torn ACL (using a cadaver ligament) and repair the torn lateral meniscus in my right knee. Since my injury, I've received countless pieces of advice, PR pitches and recommendations for products pro athletes use during recovery that I am promised will "change your life!" These five actually did. At least I believe they made my recovery smoother, either by speeding healing, minimizing pain and/or inflammation or keeping me healthy and headstrong while my body works to heal. Some are relatively inexpensive and some might break the bank, but they're all worth passing along.
2XU Elite MCS Compression Tights
The Claim: According to the 2XU website, "the Elite MCS Compression Tight offers unparalleled power and protection against muscle trauma during intense activity. Graduated engineering also offers impressive recovery benefits post exercise."
My Take: It goes without saying, but for much of the past five months, little in my workout routine qualified as "intense activity." But once my incisions healed, I wore the tights while I slept, in order to increase circulation, and I noticed my knee was less swollen in the a.m. I also wear them when I fly, especially on long flights, and to physical therapy now that my three-hour, four-times-a-week sessions are becoming more strenuous. I wash them by hand and hang them to dry, and they've held their shape and compression.
Alkamind Daily Greens/Daily Minerals
The Claim: According to the pitch that arrived in my inbox, "Subtle changes in pH can have profound effects on an athletes' overall health, level of fatigue, pain, weight, ability to train and overall athletic performance. The harder athletes train during his or her recovery, the quicker their muscles become acidic, which leads to reduced muscle power and fatigue ... Professional big-wave surfers Garrett McNamara and Andrew Cotton both experienced horrifying wipeouts and used Alkamind Daily Greens and Alkamind Daily Minerals to speed up recovery while in rehabilitation, build endurance and increase performance."
My Take: This publicist had me at "big-wave surfers." If it's good enough for Garrett McNamara, it's good enough for me ... to try, at least. The minerals taste better than the greens, but neither is tough to stomach. I mixed the packets into a small glass of cold water, one in the morning (greens) and one at night (minerals) and while it's difficult to say the products are speeding my recovery, I can say this: In the two months I used the products, I traveled non-stop and spent far too much time in airplanes, busy offices and major sporting events during one of the gnarliest flu seasons in the U.S. in recent memory, and I felt great.
($34.99 each for a 30-day supply; getoffyouracid.com)
HyperIce Knee Compression Cold Wrap
The Claim: According to press materials, the HyperIce wrap is easy to use, portable, molds the ice to your knee and is designed to treat and/or prevent knee pain and inflammation from knee injuries, including ACL tears.
My Take: Although there is a debate raging as to whether icing speeds or delays recovery -- I fall on the side of delays, since inflammation is necessary to tissue repair and icing slows lymphatic drainage -- there is no question ice relieves pain. And I've found no better way to ice than with this device. It's lightweight and doesn't take up too much space in the suitcase, and the synthetic ice (sold separately for $40) alleviates a lot of time I used to spend tracking down actual frozen water. I can also walk around while icing, and anything that allows me to multitask is a winner in my book.
The Claim: "Be pain-free and pill-free ... The best in handheld vibration therapy ... the G2Pro will activate your muscles and relieve your pain and soreness," says the TheraGun website.
My Take: I first started seeing these devices in the hands of athletes at the X Games in Austin, Texas. Or I should say, hearing them. The one downside of the TheraGun is it is power-drill loud. Since my surgery, I use it every morning to combat pain and stiffness in my hips and lower back and I use the softest attachment to break up scar tissue around my incisions. I also use it on all of my large muscle groups before and after I work out. Despite the added weight, it's the first item into my suitcase when I'm packing for a trip. To me, it has lived up to its billing.
The Claim: According to David Poole, NuCalm's EVP of marketing and sales, "Twenty minutes of NuCalm is worth two hours of sleep." In 2015, the product received a patent for "systems and methods for balancing and maintaining the health of the human autonomic nervous system." In short: NuCalm brings users to a state of deep relaxation. In the past, it was available only to professional athletes or under the guidance of a physician. A portable consumer version, called ReNu, is now available to the public without a prescription, though the price is high.
"Your knee will only heal when you are sleeping," Poole told me. "The more you sleep, the more you nap, the more you NuCalm (which mimics sleep), the better your recovery will be. What your body does in a stress-free environment is beautiful."
My Take: Understanding the science behind NuCalm took a lot longer than figuring out how to use the device. I began with 30 to 50-minute sessions once per day, and within a couple weeks -- much like with meditation -- it started to make sense. I noticed I felt more clear-headed if I did a session before I sat down to write, and I felt more energized in the morning if I did a session immediately after waking up. It's impossible to know if NuCalm is speeding my healing, but five months post-surgery, I'm back to doing intense yoga, riding my bike and going for two-hour strenuous hikes. I also haven't dealt with the anxiety and depression that affects many people post-ACL surgery, and I believe NuCalm has helped me to keep it at bay.