Autha-itis…

My grandfather’s name was Arthur, and he talked all the time about his arthritis but pronounced it autha-itis, so for months I thought it was a condition unique to him, that he had his own special burden

Michael Kleber-Diggs

I was in my early forties when I first felt the effects of osteoarthritis. It was in the ‘pinkies’ of both hands. They felt stiff and sore. I confess I thought little of it and did nothing about it. I assumed it was the wear and tear of ageing.

Then a year or so later, I felt the same stiffness and soreness in my other fingers, most specifically in the index finger of my left hand. And along with those symptoms, the finger was noticeably swollen around the joints. So much so that it was impossible to bend the finger.

It called for a trip to the doctor. Not that I thought they might somehow reverse the ageing process (I wish), but I hoped some treatment might exist to reduce the swelling and soreness.

There wasn’t. The doctor did confirm it was OA and suggested I might consider Glucosamine. Some who suffered from that malady felt it had a beneficial effect. There was no solid scientific data to support that, but hey-ho, I thought, what can be the harm in trying.

I did, and my index finger returned to its usual size. The soreness and stiffness also disappeared. Not in my pinkies, however. I also noticed the knuckles of those fingers acquiring that characteristic gnarling seen in people with OA.

Given the contradictory results, I decided on an experiment. I stopped taking the Glucosamine to see how my index finger or other non-afflicted fingers might react. Nothing happened. No return of swelling, pain, or stiffness. I did not return to the Glucosamine, and as I type away writing this today, other than my pinkies, my fingers work fine. However, I still have slight soreness in my pinkies, their knuckles gnarled and the fingers challenging to bend.

My knees, specifically my right knee, are now a more significant problem. Regular readers will recall the pieces I’ve written on the injuries I sustained to that knee in my younger days. Therefore, it is no surprise that OA would one day seek it out.

Since the injuries, subsequent op and physio, my right knee has always been prone to stiffness and swelling. Nothing that I could not live with. However, last summer, things became worse with much more pain. Both when bending the knee and touching it.

Back to the Docs, I thought. But sadly, in the past twenty-odd years, no miracle cure has emerged for OA. So, the best he could do was a referral to Physio to see what might further strengthen the muscles in my leg and thus possibly help the old knee with its role.

Given the NHS’s challenges, it wasn’t surprising that my first Physio consultation took until November. Still, I have to say it was worth waiting for. Unlike when seeing my GP, I felt under no time pressure. First, the Physio made sure they had a thorough history. Then came a detailed examination of my knee and my mobility level in the joint. It came as a surprise to me just how many ways a leg might bend and stretch!

A series of muscle-strengthening exercises was soon set. Then, after watching me pedal on a static bike came a recommendation as to how to adjust my cycling motion. The physio felt that my then action might cause increased knee pain (as part of my exercise regime for the past 20 years, I pedal away on a static bike every day for around 30 to 45 minutes).

I began the proscribed exercises and adjusted my cycling action. In a couple of weeks, the pain when touching my knee disappeared. Then in time, came a reduction in the overall stiffness and pain in my knee.

Further consultations continued, and refinements were made to my exercise routine. As well as my cycling, my routine now currently consists of; offset squatting, hip abductions, shoulder bridges, single leg standing with eyes closed (the most difficult of them all), and one leg calf raise. More than that, the Physio enrolled me on an NHS ‘Living with Arthritis’ programme. The last session of that programme is tomorrow.

I found the programme especially useful as it gave an insight into what OA is, and how different sufferers experience different symptoms and pain. No two seem to be alike. The programme busted the myths and altered my beliefs. It also offered further recommendations on exercise and pain management (attenuating that pain ‘added’ by the brain), diet etc.

So, where am I now? In much less discomfit than I was a year ago. I always knew the knee wasn’t going to get ‘better’. Age and sporting abuse has taken their toll. But after the programme, I have a far greater understanding of what OA is and what it isn’t. I know what to do to help manage my OA. How to exercise, what pain really means, and to eat sensibly. All aimed at giving my knee some help.

Most of all the programme took away my fear of OA

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