Getting old too soon
An osteoarthritis diagnosis at 42 was an eye-opener for Sarah Ivens.
There are crueller ways to feel over the hill than reaching your 40th birthday. My celebration was golden and full of glitter, the theme being “bling it on — I’m 40 and fabulous, let’s party.” But just two years later, a diagnosis of arthritis in my hips made me realize how naive I had been. I was not energetically bounding toward — or through, if we’re being honest — middle age with a skip in my step. I was limping along. Literally.
I got my diagnosis via a consultation with my doctor and a series of X-rays four weeks ago, but I’d been feeling pain in my hips — some nights so bad it would take me hours to fall asleep — for two years. Worried when they had first started hurting, I’d headed to a doctor who assured me it was just the usual strain of lugging young children around, and bending into awkward positions while carrying out the multitasking required of any busy mother. Unconvinced and still in agony, I got a different doctor’s perspective, and there it was. Arthritis.
What is arthritis? Inflammation in the joints is how it is characterized — a common condition that affects more than 350 million people worldwide, according to the Global RA Network (more than six million alone in Canada, Arthritis Society reports). Arthritis causes joint pain, stiffness and tenderness, restricted movement, and weakness and muscle wasting. There are many different types of the condition, and my symptoms suggested the most common strain: osteoarthritis.
I’d pushed for an X-ray when the two linked symptoms I’d been living with miserably over the past two years worsened. The pain that burned deep inside my hip socket — especially on the right side, the place I had carried my children for the past seven years — had begun to radiate down through my thighs and into my knees.
When, in a bid to get fit for the summer, I dropped my usual walking and yoga fitness regime for a stricter regime of running five days a week, the agony increased. Mentally, jogging felt fabulous — my clarity and positivity dramatically improved — but physically, it was bringing me down.
Alongside the physical issues was increasing stiffness. For a couple of years, I’d feel strikingly inflexible after a long car journey or a big chunk of time working at my desk, and would have to do a few hip circles and bends to feel normal again, but in the past few months I’d started hobbling. I’d have to pull myself up from tables after a half-hour coffee date, unable to walk until my hips had readjusted to a new position. Getting out of bed in the morning was becoming increasingly more laboured, and stretching was non-negotiable. These outward signs pushed me toward the doctor’s office more than the pain. Call it vanity, but I didn’t want — at 42 years old — to be hobbling instead of walking, crooked and twisted instead of standing tall.
Because of my age, my symptoms weren’t automatically assumed to be arthritis, but when the inflammation shone through on the X-ray, I was given a clear program to an improved standard of living.
I felt incredibly positive that by following a plan, the pain and stiffness could be mostly defused.
I was sent off with a prescription for a non-steroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID), an oral pill called naproxen to take during a severe flare-up of pain or inflammation, not consistently. A limit of 500 mg per bad day was set, and I was determined to only use it during the most excruciating moments.
A couple of hours after taking one of these tablets, I did feel better, and the good night’s rest I was rewarded with contributed to an improved general sense of well-being immediately.
I was also dispatched with a referral to a physiotherapist, who would teach me, using manual therapy, various stretching techniques to keep my hip joints supple. Alongside this more disciplined physical treatment, I was urged to continue the weekly yoga class I had been attending for the last year.
I also agreed to give up running for walking, and found a good march in the open air offered just as many feel-good mental benefits as a sweaty ordeal on a treadmill. Swimming, I was advised, could reduce stiffness, too. As well, the benefits of dropping a little weight — as well as reducing consumption of inflammatory foods such as things high in saturated fat (red meat and butter) and replacing them with beneficial things like omega-3 fatty acid-filled fish and antioxidant, vitamin C-rich fruit (strawberries, pineapple and kiwi) — became clear, and I walked away with my X-ray results determined to improve my diet, filling it with whole, natural foods. I’ve lost seven pounds (3.1 kg) over the past month, which has reduced the pain slightly. The other change in my consumption has been adding supplements known to aid arthritis sufferers. Every morning, I take Move Free pills, which support joint health with a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid. I’ve also added — on the advice of other middle-aged arthritic friends — curcumin capsules, which reduce joint inflammation, and fish oil capsules.
Knowledge is power, and educating myself to make better choices in how I use my body and what I feed it has made me feel mentally stronger. Now I’m just waiting for the physical side of me to follow.