Osteoarthritis - It's Not Just For Old People

At the age of 24, I broke my leg in a four-wheeler accident that left me with scrapes, bruises and muscle aches throughout my body. The orthopedic surgeon who examined me at the emergency room warned my parents I may never walk again. I had broken my tibia in three different places, thus requiring surgery that put two plates and 12 screws along the length of my bone.

Despite this, after a recovery period of about one year, I did walk again. Unfortunately though, this accomplishment came with a caveat :

I now have osteoarthritis throughout the joint in my left knee.

Arthritis In My 20s?!?

Prior to this injury, I believed arthritis was for the elderly. Now I understand osteoarthritis is a disease caused by loss of cartilage. My injury actually destroyed all of my cartilage, leaving the bones in my knee to rub freely against each other without protection.

The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and stiffness. Thankfully, I experience both only in severe weather. Michigan summers are often humid, and this is a condition that causes my leg to swell regardless of what I do for it. I also have trouble walking straight, because my knee stiffens up whether I sit, walk or lie down. Similarly, the rain brings on intense pain that shoots from my knee to my ankle. Of course, these are minor discomforts in exchange for the ability to walk, but still....

When I do feel pain, I try to forego over-the-counter pain medications and opt instead for hot or cold compresses. Heat relieves stiffness, while cold can help with muscle spasms. I alternate the two for 20 minutes a day, several times as needed.

I also pay attention to the overall health of my knee.

Fighting Back

Osteoarthritis is a disease that progresses over time.

There is no cure, and my doctor has already discussed the possibility of knee replacement surgery in years to come. I cannot reconcile myself to this outcome, though, and am committed to doing whatever is necessary to keep my knee as strong as possible. What this has come to mean for me is exercise and weight management. Exercise can strengthen the muscles around my knee, making the joint more stable, while weight loss reduces unnecessary stress to the joint.

Unfortunately, since breaking my leg, I have remained consistently overweight. >.<

First off - I'm not exactly what one would call a "natural born runner." I don’t feel peace or personal gratification while I’m hoofing down a paved road or across grassy trails. All I feel is hot and miserable, with my mind telling me to keep going and my heaving lungs warning me to stop before I pass out.

And with osteoarthritis - well, let's just say it doesn't help! Exercise is a challenge. I can’t engage in intense aerobics, running or jumping and on a damp, chilly day in the middle of February, it’s almost impossible to force my embattled knee into motion.

A Compromise

Despite this however, I've recently found the solution. I mitigate pressure on my knee while achieving a beneficial workout by biking.

I haven’t exactly crossed into intense riding that traverses mud, rocks and cliffs, but I take my bike out every single evening and ride at a comfortable pace through my neighborhood. I make sure I’m slightly out of breath, but feeling no resistance from my knee.

I pay particularly close attention to pain, as every single article and research paper I’ve read has contained this simple warning: stop exercising the moment pain comes on. With osteoarthritis, the exercise mantra of “no pain, no gain” no longer prevails. Pain is a serious sign that the joint needs to rest. Moreover, when pain persists for more than two hours, the workout was too intense and needs to be reduced.

During the winter, when the roads are too slushy for biking, I plan to ride my indoor exercise bike. It is my hope that this diligence would help my knee become more flexible while also shedding some pounds from around the middle.

I hope is that once I see the results, it should be much easier to keep my motivated - even while the snow flies or the rain pours down outside.

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