Saturday, February 12, 2011

Falling Apart at 40? Not So Fast!

Conventional wisdom holds that osteoarthritis is an "old person's" disease, you know, something your grandmother might have. It is also widely regarded as an unavoidable part of the aging process. But what if you have OA and you are not yet old (relatively speaking, of course)?

I was diagnosed with OA of the knee exactly one week after my fortieth birthday.  I've spent the last five years coping with chronic pain from cervical spondylosis, but my neck problems began after an injury, so even though I don't like it, at least I understand why it hurts. This knee pain really caught me off guard. I'm not overweight, and while I've always been active, I've never participated in a marathon, competitive gymnastics, or any other type of extreme sport that I imagine would prematurely wear out your joints.  I just woke up one morning and my knee was stiff and swollen. X-rays revealed significant OA, which surprised me, as I had never had any symptoms, or any discomfort. Less than two months later, my knee completely locked-up and I couldn't walk. I was promptly scheduled for arthroscopic surgery, and because the damage was so extensive (I had very little cartilage left), the surgeon performed  micro-fracture surgery which left me on crutches for almost three months. To add insult to injury - and I mean this literally -  at my final surgical check-up with my physician, when I asked whether I should avoid certain activities, because, as I said "I don't want to make it worse", his curt reply was "Oh, it's definitely going to get worse. I didn't even work on the bad side of your knee".

Say what?

Since being diagnosed with OA, I have spent many hours searching the internet - in vain, it seems - for, if not necessarily a cure, then at least some type of therapy that could slow the inevitable joint damage associated with this debilitating disease. The thing that struck me during my research is that the majority of information available on the web addresses arthritis care primarily as an aging issue. This makes sense, considering that arthritis is very common after age 65 and quite rare prior to age 40, but it's nonetheless frustrating. What about those of us who aren't quite old, don't need to lose weight, already eat well (most of the time!) and who are active and want to stay that way? Just tell me what to do and I'll do it!

This quest for better information was my main motivation for starting this blog. I know there are others out there like me who probably know a lot more than I do. My wish is to connect with and share ideas with my fellow active arthritis sufferers who want more than to merely cope: we want more details, more options, more opportunities.

Got some great tips for dealing with arthritis? I'd love to hear from you!


  1. Sorry to hear of your struggles! Ever hear of Amare Stoudemire? He also had microfracture surgery. Right now, every two or three days, he pounds up and down a basketball court playing for the NBA's New York Knicks. So there is life after microfracture surgery. :)

    I once had chronic knee pain; it hadn't progressed to full-blown arthritis, but I was heading there, fast. Physical therapy wasn't working. Doctors said I'd never get better. So I started researching (I'm a journalist and Harvard grad -- the college, not the med school :)) and found a really uplifting story about cartilage healing, as shown by medical studies.

    I nursed my own knees to a full recovery (it took almost 2 years). I think there's a LOT that can be done to heal bad knees (caveat: if you have advanced OA, and a lot of structural changes are impeding motion in the joint, it's gonna be tough). Anyway here I have a thread at the KneeGuru about my book and my experience that you may find interesting:

    Don't give up! I wrote "Saving My Knees" to inspire others because doctors robbed me of the only drug that really matters: HOPE. Chronic knee pain can be cured. If I sound a wee bit evangelical, it's because I literally got my life back when I healed my knees. :)


  2. Fantastic, Richard. Thanks for the encouragement. I checked out your blog - there's so much information. As soon as I can get the kids to bed, I want to spend some time exploring your site.

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  4. I have OA in my knees. I also had several meniscus tears. I got the back of that kneecap shaved and the meniscus trimmed. The other knee also has OA and they just gave me a shot in it.

    I was up and around that same day! I don't know about microfracture surgery, I'll have to research (just to understand) and will look into, too. Thanks!

  5. Hi Amy,

    You sound so brave and optimistic after dealing with such a tough time. I admire that. It is great to hear that you're doing yoga and I think it will help. I'd also focus on the types of foods that you're putting into your body. I believe the old adage holds true, "You are what you eat."

    Richards comment was uplifting to know that an NBA player is dealing with the same type of issues. There is hope!

  6. Thanks for your kind comment, Sarah. I guess it is easier to sound brave after the fact, because believe me, I felt pretty sorry for myself at times.

    I try to watch what I eat and maintain my weight, but I do have quite a sweet tooth. I could definitely do better in that area!

    The funny thing about the NBA players is that when I googled micro-fracture surgery, almost every link had to do with an NBA player recovering from the procedure. It is encouraging to know that these guys are getting back out on the court - there is hope for me yet!

  7. Hi Amy,

    I found you on Social Moms. I wish you the best of luck on finding answers. I am 40 too, and you really start to think about life being very precious. Hang in there, and stay brave!

  8. My right knee packed in on me in 1997, age 51. After a day's rock climbing, I couldn't walk for several days and was in considerable pain. Just by chance, I decided to hire a bicycle for a day, and my knee felt noticeably better, so I went out and bought a bike. My knee remains dodgy, but I think because I do so much cycling nowadays there is at least no pain.

    I don't know if cycling would help your condition, but if you haven't tried it perhaps you should.

  9. Hi Dennis - Thanks for the suggestion - I actually love to ride bikes. It's the one activity where I can keep up with the rest of my family.