Lucy says managing her arthritis is all about "striking a balance"

02 November 2021

My name is Lucy-Anne, I’m 31 and I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 18.

I've always been keen on fitness and since my diagnosis, I made sure I took extra care with yoga and running. Six years ago, I started lifting weights and in early 2020 I decided to compete in a bikini fitness competition.

In preparation to step on stage, I spent months completing weightlifting and cardio exercises daily.

It’s not been easy, but I feel my experiences have shown that people living with long-term health conditions can lead successful lives and we can compete alongside some of the best athletes around!

“I was experiencing pain in my hands and feet and struggling to do daily tasks.”

It was hard to drive, type and on some days even walk, as I was in so much pain. I saw numerous doctors over five months who all gave different opinions before eventually diagnosing me with rheumatoid arthritis.

It took a year to get the right medication which had the desired effect, and the side effects weren’t making me feel ill. I currently take methotrexate injections weekly, sulfasalazine and pregabalin tablets daily.

Since being diagnosed, I’ve had four operations, including extended carpal tunnel surgery and releasing of the ulna nerve on both arms.

"I try to listen to my body and give myself what I need."

When I get up in the morning, sometimes I struggle with fatigue, and it can take me longer to come round.

I feel this, especially in winter as it takes my joints longer to wake up when it is colder.

My employer has been understanding of my condition and they’ve made adjustments for me. I have a demanding job which can involve long periods of typing and so I sometimes use an iPad or dictation to rest my fingers, as well as taking regular breaks.

“I try to assess the toll any social events might have on my fatigue and/or my feet.”

I’m someone with an active lifestyle and I try to ensure I have a good social life. To help strike a balance I make necessary adjustments (i.e. my footwear!), or I won’t do any other exercise on a day when I’m out with friends.

On a weekend, if I’m going out in the evening, I’ll try and have a nap in the afternoon beforehand. I do find sometimes the tiredness comes out of nowhere, even if I’ve had a solid night’s rest the night before.

I think fatigue is probably the biggest unknown impact of arthritis that both people with and without the condition should be aware of. We don’t have the same amount of energy one day to the next and it can hit you like a wall sometimes. Even when you are on the right medication and your condition is under control.

“My exercise routine is often about making an assessment each day on what I can do.”

I think about how I feel and ask myself... do I need longer in bed? Can I really go for a run today or should I go for a walk instead? Should I switch my leg training for an upper body session?

Other days I can get up and train and it makes me feel a lot better; it’s exactly what my body needs to get my joints ready for the day. I also try and do plenty of yoga and stretching as this is important for muscle growth and recovery, as well as taking care of the joints.

“I decided to compete in a bikini fitness contest due to my love of exercise and weightlifting.”

I wanted to give myself a real goal to strive for. A lot of people in my life didn’t think I could do it or should do it, specifically because of my arthritis. This was something that spurred me on even more.

Competition preparation takes a certain mindset; it takes a lot of grit and determination for both your body and mind, pushing them both to unknown limits. I was training for ten months and some of it took place during lockdown which meant training in the winter.

There are certain exercises I can’t do because of my arthritis. Barbell front and back squats are absolute no-goes, so the leg press machine is my go-to.

Having the support of a good personal trainer who thought outside the box and produced the alternatives I needed to step on stage was key.

There are always alternative exercises to hit the muscle groups you wish to – you just have to find them.

“I competed in PCA’s first timers’ event in Birmingham in July 2021.”

I feel that the competition experience has shown me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. My friends and sister were supportive of my competing and the hard work I put in, but much prefer when I’m able to go out for dinner and drinks with them!

Now, my aim is to have a good balance between training and living life whilst getting stronger in the gym!

Having arthritis should not hold anyone back from their goals and dreams, regardless of what they are.

It’s true you should always listen to your doctor’s advice, but don’t ever be afraid to try and look at something from a different angle, push your body and your boundaries.

We’re here whenever you need us.

For more inspiration, check out our exercises for healthy joints, there are dedicated sections for the back, knees, hips, feet and ankles.