“I didn’t know a great deal about osteoarthritis, I thought it only affected older people.”20 October 2021
My name is Kelly and I’m 42. I was previously fit and healthy, working out most days (weight training, high-interval training and running). I wouldn’t think twice about going for a 10k run with the dog because he looked bored! My health and fitness were a big part of my identity.
“I only found out I had osteoarthritis (OA) in my knees after having my son.”
Two weeks after having my son who’s now four and a half, I noticed a niggling ache in my right knee. I just put it down to weight gain and inactivity during my pregnancy and after the birth.
By the time my six-week check came around, I was in considerable pain. I was sent for an x-ray and a few days later received a text from the doctor telling me it was moderate to severe osteoarthritis. Naively, I was relieved; I had little knowledge of the condition, I thought it only affected older people and I thought the pain would pass.
Much of the information I came across was based on how to cope with the situation I was in at the time, not how to significantly change the situation. I didn’t want to manage my pain, I wanted to get rid of it.
However, there was some great information on the Versus Arthritis website on emotional wellbeing which I found useful; to know that my frustration, anger and sense of isolation were normal really helped.
“I tried several times to get back to my previous fitness but struggled terribly.”
I’d been advised to rest as much as possible, no running or walking long distances, no resistance training, etc.
The pain was excruciating and exhausting to live with. Anytime I went to the doctor I was prescribed painkillers and told to take it easy, but the pain only got worse. I walked with a limp, I could barely manage the stairs and struggled to sleep.
Constant exhaustion was the most difficult aspect. Just getting through the day while in so much pain really takes its toll.
Added to the mix I had a young baby; I was really struggling both physically and mentally.
“Day to day tasks were becoming increasingly difficult.”
I was concerned about my return to work after maternity leave. I love my job, but it can be physically demanding, and I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. I was prescribed anti-inflammatories, but I didn’t want to be taking pills for the rest of my life.
I couldn’t understand how I could go from being completely unaware I had osteoarthritis, to being in so much pain, and unable to do any of the things I loved to do.
Searches on the internet compounded my feelings of hopelessness. There were so few positive stories about osteoarthritis, and I found myself thinking what I would be able to do in a few years' time.
Would I need some sort of walking aid? Should we move to a bungalow? Being in so much pain was completely exhausting. I got sick and tired of hearing myself say “I’m so tired”. I felt like a broken record.
I tried several times to get back to my previous fitness. I even completed the Brighton Marathon before realising running was not for me anymore. It felt great to achieve something physical though!
“I didn’t notice any difference in symptoms with any particular foods.”
I have found that eating well - lots of fruit and veg and unprocessed foods – does make me feel generally better and I feel more motivated to do things.
Sleep is a huge factor for me, it’s vital for repair and recovery, and I certainly notice the difference if I don’t get a lot of sleep!
Unfortunately, balancing being a mum with a young child and doing shift work for the police means I don’t always get enough, but I do prioritise it when I can.
“I tried training plans that had worked previously, but nothing quite fit.”
It was a case of one step forward, two steps back. Then, during lockdown, I stumbled across an online programme delivered by a local gym.
It focused on mobility, flexibility and strength fitness. The head coach, Martin, was very supportive and I completed the course. It was life changing!
I cannot express how much of a difference it made to my everyday life. Not only did I see huge improvements in my mobility, flexibility, and strength, but my pain all but disappeared.
It gave me a great basis for personal training sessions once the gyms reopened again. Martin now writes a bespoke training plan for me, and we’ve been able to move away from just concentrating on my knees, to working on total body strength and fitness.
“I’ve learned to appreciate my body for what it can do, rather than what it looks like.”
I don’t take any sort of movement or activity for granted anymore. I’m excited to see how I can progress at the gym and I'm so grateful I can enjoy getting out with my little boy who loves to explore!
"My advice to others with osteoarthritis would be..."
- Go at your own pace, realise (and accept) that you may not be able to do what you could before. Take it as an opportunity to try new things.
- Once I had accepted that running was not for me anymore, I bought a bike and found I really enjoy cycling!
- Be patient with yourself; progress may be slower and there may be setbacks.
- Find a gym or personal trainer with experience of rehabilitation. I know it can be costly, but it’s an investment in your future and in your wellbeing.
- I personally would love to see the NHS referring people with arthritis (where appropriate) to personal trainers, rather than going straight down the medication route.
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