Do you ever think, “If I only had known then what I know now”?
When I was a child I sometimes experienced what they called a “trick knee” which would “go out” and cause intense pain. I never went to a doctor for it since it happened so infrequently. Later, in early adulthood, my doctor diagnosed me with “tennis elbow” even though I was not a tennis player.
The doctor said “tennis elbow” was one way of referring to osteoarthritis and might have resulted from an injury or overuse. He advised taking over-the-counter pain medication and wrapping the inflamed joint so it wasn’t used as much. More powerful medications were prescribed for the worst cases of arthritis, he told me, but that the side effects would have to be carefully considered. Fortunately at that time, a few aspirin eased the pain.
Fast forward almost 50 years and I realize what a contrast my 1970s doctor’s advice was to my current doctor’s multi-therapeutic approach to arthritis. My current doctor advises exercise, physical therapy, chiropractic care, joint injections, and an anti-inflammatory diet, in addition to the earlier recommendations of heat, ice, ointments and the judicious use of over-the-counter pain meds.
Arthritis pain worsens over time
As I look back, I realize my “trick knee” and “tennis elbow” may have been signs of arthritis, which I would battle over my lifetime. With a full-time job and a family to look after, I really didn’t have the time to pursue further information. Back in the early 1970s, there was no Internet to easily find additional information about arthritis. But as the years passed my knees began to develop aches and pains, which grew more severe as I got older. I listened as my doctor diagnosed osteoarthritis and I dutifully wrote down and followed his recommendations to treat arthritis: topical analgesic ointments or sprays like Aspercreme, BioFreeze or Theragesic and heating pads and/or ice packs in addition to over-the-counter pain medication.
When I retired I became more physically active: my husband and I planted a large garden and many flower beds. With these extra activities, however, came more pain. Kneeling to do garden work became almost impossible. My daughter bought me a garden kneeler seat, which helped me continue to garden, but it was only an interim measure. Walking was now a slow-motion activity, with each step gingerly placed after the other. One doctor prescribed a knee brace, which would not fit correctly to my knee. I tried to avoid thinking about what was probably inevitable: knee replacement surgery.
I had read a lot about total knee replacement, including about people who felt they had their life given back to them once their knees had healed. I also read that some kinds of replacement knees were causing problems for recipients and were having to be redone. I called my doctor’s office and the staff told me that they were aware of the same information and reassured me that me they used the best type of knee replacement on on the market.
Having that information bolstered my confidence, although I knew that there would still be a lot of discomfort and pain involved in knee replacement surgery. I worried what the outcome would be. Could I handle the physical therapy involved after knee surgery? But eventually I had to set aside my fears, put my trust in God and my doctor, and just do it.
My chiropractor referred me to a wonderful surgeon at an orthopedic center, whom I peppered with questions about what to expect after my surgery. He took the time to explain the procedure, recommended a physical therapy center, and discussed medications he would prescribe.
Total knee replacements
So, at age 74, I had my first total knee replacement. It was successful and not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. Most of the pain and discomfort occurred immediately after surgery and when I first returned home. The doctor prescribed pain medication pills, but I only needed to take one or two of them.
Once I started physical therapy and the muscles around my knee began to return to normal, the pain subsided. Medicare supplied a couple of weeks of in-home physical therapy and following that I had physical therapy at the local hospital. For the first two weeks I slept with a Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) machine at night. A CPM machine is a device that moves your leg continuously throughout the night to aid in healing. My leg was automatically raised and lowered as if I were exercising it, but it didn’t interfere with my sleep at all. In about two months I was back to my regular activities.
Since the first operation went so well, the following year I had my other knee replaced. This was the “trick knee” and in much worse condition than the first one. It was a bit more uncomfortable recuperating from this surgery. However, that being said, I know these replacements were high on the list of the best things I ever had done for myself.
Since my major arthritic joints had been replaced and my knees were pain free, there was no reason for me to research the latest developments in treating arthritis. What more did I need to know?
It turns out, plenty.
Osteoarthritis pain in hands, feet, spine
I have experienced arthritic pain in my hands for a while. I am unable to make a tight fist anymore so it is difficult to hold onto things. I found myself having to really focus to grab and hold on to kitchen implements so I wouldn’t drop them, and writing with a pen and paper became increasingly difficult as well. I had begun relying on Oxo Good Grips to help in the kitchen and started writing everything on the computer, giving up my lifelong habit of writing everything down on paper. It wasn’t easy, but as it turns out, it really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, either.
In 2015 arthritis in my feet flared up and an x-ray led my doctor to diagnose degenerative joint disease, another name for osteoarthritis, in my left foot. With my doctor’s OK, I headed back to my chiropractor. After several visits to him the pain was gone, and I was able once again to do the things I loved doing. Still, I was too busy to research the latest information available.
Recently the arthritis has shown up with a vengeance in my lower spine. I don’t know if I just got tired of the pain, or this was the pain that pushed me to the point of saying Enough. So I am now on a quest to bring all I have learned and every piece of information I can gather to help me fight this disease.
It doesn’t matter what I or the doctors call it, arthritis, osteoarthritis, or degenerative disc disease; the pain is life altering and I realize I must deal with it in a comprehensive manner. I feel like my entire life I have just been putting out the fires and not fully understanding the disease in its entirety.
Comprehensive treatment to fight arthritis pain
With the help of my doctor, with whom I discuss all my research, I am now finding new information for taking control of this disease and helping myself to relieve the pain and discomfort that it brings. I realize now that I have to dedicate time to incorporating all of these treatments, therapies, supportive devices and diet changes into my daily life. Things like making simpler meals, spending less time in my beloved garden, and taking the time to rest every day are going to be essential.
It is definitely easier said than done! I am working on giving myself permission to take as good care of myself as I have taken of everyone else. It’s not easy, but my life, as I know it, depends on it.
My doctors advise exercise, physical therapy, over the counter anti-inflammatory medications and/or chiropractic care and an anti-inflammatory diet. I began riding a stationary recumbent bike and take Tylenol when I need it, because I cannot take any of the NSAIDS like Advil or Motrin. Of course you should always consult your personal physician before beginning or changing any exercise routine.
I get chiropractic adjustments twice a week now, but will soon be down to once a week and then once a month. My chiropractor has kept me moving comfortably for several years. For me, monthly visits to him for maintenance are essential.
Every day my husband and I are taking the time to practice Qi Gong, a gentle exercise technique similar to Tai Chi. It is a series of slow, gentle, flowing exercises reported to help in healing. Qi Gong translated (according to Wikipedia) is “Life Energy Cultivation” and is said to help balance “chi” which is “life energy”. We follow Lee Holden’s DVD Exercise to Heal and we really enjoy it.
Anti-inflammatory diet for osteoarthritis
The changes in diet may be the most challenging of all the doctor’s suggestions. I have long been one who chooses natural foods over processed foods and prepare only fresh veggies from the garden in the growing season, so that part of it is no problem for me. However, cutting back on the amount of meat we eat is a challenge.
The Arthritis Foundation suggests the Mediterranean diet as a good anti-inflammatory diet to follow. I’ve added a lot of fish to our diet, including Wild Alaskan salmon. Wild Alaskan salmon is supposed to be beneficial for health in general. When we do eat meat, I limit the amount I put on my plate and fill the rest of the plate with side dish veggies. I also prepare eggs, chicken and turkey more often.
There is so much information published now on which foods to eat and which to avoid and it does put the patient in charge of making the right individual food choices and of doing the exercises and physical therapy, if prescribed, in order to achieve the maximum relief from my arthritis pain. Of course, what works for me might not work for everyone. Of course, you should always consult your personal physician before making any dietary changes.
Finding arthritis coping strategies that work for you
It is essential to only try different therapies and dietary changes only under a doctor’s supervision. For example, I am a diabetic, so my food choices might differ from others who have normal blood sugar. Many of us are sensitive to different foods, medications, and are at varying levels of disease and so must work with a competent medical professional to achieve the best level of health that we can. It’s also important to mention that while my form of arthritis is called osteoarthritis, there are myriad types of arthritis, the most familiar ones being osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. It is important to get the correct diagnosis and take steps to ensure you are treating the exact cause of your pain.
The Mayo Clinic offers arthritis pain Do’s and Don’ts on its website, which has some helpful advice on coping with arthritis pain. One important tip is to enlist your doctor, friends, and family in managing your arthritis symptoms. It can be so helpful to not feel like you are alone with your struggle and to be able find emotional and physical support in your life. Harvard Health Publishing offers 7 ways to live better with arthritis, and goes through several helpful points to remember throughout your day, including to keep moving, avoid stress, and plan ahead. Some of their points I am already doing and some I need to begin working on.
Sadly, there is no quick fix for arthritis and I may never be cured of arthritis or totally free from pain, but with patience, commitment and a willingness to do the work there is hope to alleviate at least some of the symptoms of arthritis.
So, all of you youngsters (anyone younger than 82) who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, I urge you to learn all you can about it, follow your doctor’s advice and commit to doing what it necessary for a healthier and happier retirement. The sooner we can incorporate our modern doctors’ multifaceted approach to arthritis, the sooner we may enjoy less painful lives.
Note: This is only one woman’s experience with her journey through arthritis; always check with your doctor when dealing with your own medical conditions!