Friday, April 05, 2013
Over a year ago now, I went to the doctors about the continual problems I was having with my knees. Especially the left one, where I’d been limping for a couple of months. I’d rolled over in bed at Christmas time, and pulled something and it just was not healing. He sent me for X-rays of both knees and also my hips. I was quite dismissive of this, since I felt the problems were not in my joints, but with the connective tissue allied with them.
The doctor diagnosed severe arthritis in both knees, and my right hip! He explained that the wear in my joints was putting a strain on the connective tissue, and that was causing the trouble I was having. I was to rest, ‘lose weight’ (of course! If I had an ingrowing toenail he’d tell me to lose weight), and to expect to have to have joint replacements within the next couple of years!
I was very upset, I cried down the phone to both my daughters, I was barely 60. Although lots of replacements are very successful, I had personal knowledge of two that certainly hadn’t been, and I didn’t want any! I had also just restarted karate, and was struggling to do any of the moves that needed strength in my knees or suppleness in my hips, (there were jokes about me only kicking peoples' kneecaps) and I couldn’t bear to think that that was the best that it was going to get!
I have a great belief in synchronicity, and at the same time I happened to catch a TV program about controlling pain by exercise. Their premise was that a lot of the pain people experience when walking etc, is their brain trying to make them stop BEFORE it really hurts. One of the guinea pigs involved was an elderly gent who walked with sticks, who couldn’t manage more than a few yards because of the severe arthritis in both knees! Ringing any bells is it?
AND THEY SENT HIM TO THE GYM!!!!!
For six weeks, and they tracked his progress. They started him exercising gently, on machines where he didn’t have to cope with his body weight. He used the recumbent bicycle, on easy resistance, just his legs going round, and they were especially keen to get him using a leg press, with a low weight but lots of reps. He complained it hurt, but they had medical supervision and reassured him that he wasn’t damaging himself, and he kept going.
After six weeks of gradually increasing weight bearing exercises, he was walking further than he had for years, and he had given up both sticks!
Also at about this time (synchronicity again!), I had started tai chi, and that gave me access to a gym! So I put my neoprene knee strengtheners on, and went and started exactly the same machines as he had used. I had also not swum for some time, as the flicking movement when you kick in breaststroke, was leaving me with a burning sensation in my knees, and I was afraid of hurting myself. I started swimming after the gym session. Just one length then a rest, but I managed ten lengths.
It hurt! I was out of breath! I was shattered. The next day I rested, then the day after, teeth gritted, I did it again.
My girls said, “You’re doing too much, you’re supposed to be resting it” my son said, “Good for you” (it was his MIL that had a badly failed knee replacement), and he gave me a really hard karate session! (Bless him)
Over the weeks my knees improved. I stopped using my knee protectors at the gym and started swimming thirty lengths minimum. My son encouraged me to start the spinning class he was going to, and he uttered those fatal words, “I’m not sure you could keep up” Red rag to a bull! So I started doing that class too, and LOVED it! I don’t know who was more amazed, me or the instructor. My sons answer was to meet me at the gym first, and exercise with me. He got me on the treadmill and on the cross trainer.
I had also started walking at the weekends with my sparkfriend Chicchantal. Five miles killed me to start with, but I was getting fitter, and although I still used my knee protectors, they were ‘in case’ not because I needed them.
My hip was still very stiff though. I found a yoga session at the same gym and started going. It was run by a lady of my age, and was like no yoga session I’d ever attended before! No poses, she concentrated on working small muscle groups I didn’t know I possessed. I felt like I’d been on the rack afterwards! When I told her about my knees and my hip, she gave me exercises to do for exactly those bits!
So fast forward to now, and I’ve joined a second karate group. They’re much more physically intense than the other group. (My son uttered those fatal words again, and yes, he goes too) For the first time in years, more than I care to remember, but at least ten, this week at karate I managed to kneel, and sit back on my heels. My knees hurt and I didn’t do it for long, but I did it. I also managed the squats.
And that’s what motivated me to write this blog. If you have arthritis, don’t accept that you can’t exercise. I don't know your individual circumstances, but maybe you can, just chose your exercises carefully. Things may improve considerably. I can’t do the high kicks yet, but my hip is improving with the yoga, it may yet come.
AND MY KNEES ARE FINE!!! No joint replacements for me in the immediate future at least.