Ivor's Story - Arthritis Action

Ivor's Story - Arthritis Action

“There are two bad ways of dealing with arthritis, and I tried them both. First, I carried on playing football with a swollen ankle for years before getting it professionally diagnosed as arthritis. Secondly, when x-rays revealed that I also had arthritis in both hips and my lower back I went to the opposite extreme and virtually stopped exercising with, what I now realise, were predictable results. I put on weight and became increasingly less mobile such that even walking to the shops was a painful chore. I needed to find a better way of dealing with my arthritis.

At this point I joined Arthritis Action and was assigned Martin Lau as my adviser. Martin impressed on me the importance of carefully calibrated exercise, the value of using weights to strengthen the affected joints, the need to lose weight, and the motivational significance of having a target to aim for. My wife also encouraged me to see the problem in perspective: despite the diagnosis, my left hip was in fact causing me no problems and my back only intermittent problems.

I had a false start with the first target I set: the Couch to 5K. This fell by the wayside because I got a different injury – to my IT band (no, I didn’t know what it was either). After some thought, I changed my target to doing a 200-mile bike tour in 5 days in the Lake District with old friends: doing these tours is something I have always enjoyed, and I want to continue doing so. Cycling is also low impact exercise. Next, I joined a gym, got a trainer to show me how to use the weight machines and started going 4 or 5 times a week, sometimes throwing in a swim as well. Later I had weekly sessions with a personal trainer to help me focus on my glutes, quads, and hamstrings, work which was useful both for arthritis and the IT band. Having Martin Lau from Arthritis Action to speak to was really helpful in this period too – it made such a difference to be able to talk about my progress towards my goal with someone who showed a real interest.

As the time for the tour approached, I did a couple of trial rides. The first didn’t go well: it was very hilly and I had a fully laden bike. Next day I could hardly walk – a setback: my goal seemed quite remote that day. I needed to reset, so I did a few longer rides on the flat. My next trial ride was 110 miles over 2 days on the canal, which I managed quite comfortably. This was much more encouraging. Although flat, the daily distance was longer than I would be doing in the Lakes, and I felt much more confident. The tour goal was very important to me, but I wasn’t obsessed by it. I had fallback plans: if I didn’t feel right before the ride I would borrow an e-bike; if I was struggling during the ride, I would go as far as I could each day and then take a lift with our van man. The fallback plans were important to take away the stress. Whatever happened, I would be spending time in the Lakes with friends.

The ride was tough. I had to push quite a bit, but that was nothing to do with arthritis: it was the 15,000 feet of climbing in 5 days! As it turned out, I had very few problems with arthritis – a few grumbles in the knees and swelling of the ankle in the evening, but nothing that some stretches, paracetamol, and cider couldn’t sort out. Anyway, the careful preparation paid off and I made it. I was immensely pleased to finish it, because, at one time, it had seemed such a distant goal.

My wife reminds me that mine is not a heroic tale: there are many people with more severe arthritis than me who will have achieved more than I have. But I hope my story is a modest example of how setting an ambitious but manageable goal, and approaching it systematically and tenaciously, can really help with managing arthritis and can open your horizons again. That said, my next cycle tour will be in Holland, not the Lakes!”

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