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Osteoarthritis — a painful but manageable disease

Anyone who experiences joint pain for more than two weeks should see a trusted doctor.

I always say that when I turned 60, my body turned against me. That’s when I first started having joint pain in my left hip. It got worse and worse, until I had to quit my job. A year after that I finally had that hip replaced, which took care of the pain almost immediately. The new hip sets off alarms when I go through airport checks, but that’s minor compared to having to swallow pain pills all day just to be able to stay out of bed.

I’ve since found out that the left hip was only the first joint to be affected. The right hip followed, as well as my shoulders and the lower spine. So far I’ve been able to avoid more surgery.

Winter seems to be the season when the problem becomes worse. I found that cold, and especially damp weather, affects my joints a lot. I’m hurting more than I was during the summer, and my mobility is very much affected. I’m worried about falling on icy streets, and my fear makes me more insecure and therefore more prone to such accidents.

Because of all this, I don’t much like the winter these days, but I’ve learned to live with the osteoarthritis. There are some things one can do to reduce the pain and discomfort, especially in the early stages.

Anyone who experiences joint pain for more than two weeks should see a trusted doctor. I waited much too long to take that step, and by the time I did consult my physician the disease had already progressed too far.

After the doctor has diagnosed your problem, he/she will recommend a course of treatment. It’s important to follow this. Taking medication all the time is not pleasant – all meds have some side-effects – but they do make things easier.

Exercise is important. Gentle exercise helps keep joints mobile, wards off muscle atrophy and may decrease joint pain. I walked every day during the summer and fall for about half an hour and it has helped. I’m now in the process of deciding on some exercise I can do when I can’t go outside and am considering aquasize classes. Water-based exercises are supposed to be more gentle on the joints, but this is a remedy not always easily accessible in smaller towns. One woman I know says she puts some good music on her CD player and dances for 20 minutes every day. I asked her if that isn’t too painful and she says she loves the dancing so much that she didn’t mind the discomfort she felt when she started, and now she feels much better.

I am overweight and it’s clear to me that it does not help with the osteoarthritis problem. Every extra pound puts more strain on the joints and wears down the cartilage. It’s been a lifelong problem for me and I am aware that I need to lose some weight if I want to be as pain free as possible.

Everyone deals with chronic pain differently. I think that finding time for relaxation helps your mind and body to deal with the pain. By distracting yourself from the problem, you are managing it. Put on some music you enjoy and do something you like. My favourite relaxation activities are writing, reading, knitting (luckily I have no arthritis in my wrists) and solving puzzles.

We can’t avoid the fact that we’re getting older every day, but we can minimize the problems that often come with age by learning to deal with them in a positive manner. I’m not always successful, but I’m trying and am getting better at it. So will you.

– Joyce Slobogian writes from Brandon, Manitoba and is the author of To Die For, available at Pennywise Books and Candlewood Books in Brandon.

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