A year before I turned 50, I went to see an orthopaedic consultant. My left knee had started playing up a year or so before, buckling without warning and generally keeping me awake at night with constant, nagging pain. Both knees were permanently swollen and I was having days where it was difficult to get around.
I thought it would be a simple case of “washing out” some loose matter at the back of my left knee. I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I saw on the Xray. Most of the cartilege had worn away on the inner corners of both knees and it was clear that I was on my way to being bone-on-bone. Ouch!
The Consultant explained that the position of my bones showed I have a congenital abnormality, which means I am unlikely to be able to have conventional knee replacements.
“What now?” I asked him.
“Come back and see me when you’re 60 and your needs have reduced,” he said.
“My needs?” I repeated, stupefied. “What do you think I’m going to be doing at the age of 60? Sitting on the sofa knitting whilst watching daytime TV? Sod that – I want to be hiking, running after my grandkids, travelling the world…”
The Consultant looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. The prognosis was grim – he sent me away with strong painkillers and the promise of being in a wheelchair by 60. In the meantime, he said, I shouldn’t walk uphill, downhill, lunge, squat, run… the list of “can’t” seemed endless.
It took me a while to emerge from the gloom of my visit to the orthopaedic specialist. Over a year, in fact. After all, if the medically trained expert said I was irreparably broken then who was I to argue? I started to use a stick on the bad days and, since I couldn’t predict when a “bad day” would come, I unconsciously began to restrict my activities.
About two years after my encounter with the Consultant, my husband and I went on a Juicing Retreat, run by Jason Vale
in Portugal. For 7 days we ate (and drank!) nothing but freshly made fruit and vegetable juices. There were many of the available activities I couldn’t join in, but I went religiously to every Yoga class.
At first, I had to ice my knees after every session and took ibuprofen before, just to get me through. Then, on the Wednesday, I realised I hadn’t taken any painkillers and, miraculously, it seemed at the time, I could fully straighten my legs for the first time in months! By the time I came home, I was pain free and significantly more mobile than when I arrived.
This happened 7 years ago. Obviously, I haven’t lived on juice since then! But I do follow an alkaline diet as far as possible, and practice Yoga most days. Have I remained pain free and mobile ever since? No. When I “fall off the wagon”, as I did recently, and stop regulating what I eat, my knees let me know, and believe me, pain free, working knees feel far better than bread and pasta tastes! Sometimes, my knees hurt even when I’m doing all I can to help myself. The problem I have is a mechanical one and I have no delusions that diet and exercise will “cure” me. However…
Last year, I fulfilled a long held ambition to walk through Bryce Canyon in Utah. It was tough, and I needed painkillers to reduce swelling and see me through. I walked at a snail’s pace in some areas. But I did it, and when I finally emerged at the top, I felt euphoric.
I will be 60 in just 3 years. I might not be fitter, but I am stronger and more flexible than I have ever been. Perhaps, one day, I will have to buy that wheelchair. But so long as I can affect my health and well being through diet and exercise I will fight that prognosis.
I am currently looking into the evidence that anti-inflammatory diets and fascia-stretching exercise such as Yoga and Pilates can affect joint problems, as my own experience is, obviously, only anecdotal. It is fascinating.
In the meantime – please don’t accept all the vagaries of age and illness as inevitable. Whilst we might not always be able to cure the conditions that can affect us, there is so much we can do to improve our health and well being. I have every respect for medical professionals, but I will never give over full responsibility for my health and mobility to anyone. That responsibility lies with me.
You can buy my book
, Oh Crap – I’m 50: A Journey from Fearful to Fabulous (Sometimes), which brings together the best of the blog I wrote about turning 50, via Amazon