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Living with osteoarthritis as a Health Care Consumer


Osteoarthritis with valgus deformity - aka "knock-kneed"

MyArthritis via Flickr, licensed cc


If you've been reading my Simple Woman posts every week, you've probably endured my little whines about painful arthritis in my knee. I've tried to keep complaining to a minimum. However, the truth of it is that since early December, every single step I have taken with that leg has been painful. On a scale of 1 to 10 sometimes only a 1 or 2, sometimes 8 or 9 and a few times a 10, but almost never a 0. So needless to say, my knee has consumed a lot of my time and attention for the past couple of months. 

I have a little bit of history with this knee of mine. About 30 years ago, I was in an advanced jazz dance class in Cleveland. The studio was packed with great dancers and I was just trying to keep up and stand out a little bit. I was standing in the corner with about four other people and we were supposed to do a step-kick, step-kick, run, run and slide into a split, swivel around and then run off. I was most concerned about getting my kicks high enough over my head. So I set out. Step-kick, step-kick, run, run and OW!! My knee cap snapped over to the side of my leg and I was in sudden agony. 


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I spent weeks in a knee immobilizer, and then I did some physical therapy. What I remember really helped was getting into the water. It felt as if every time I got out of the water, my knee felt a lot better. 

I had no further trouble with that knee until 2011. By then I had endured 7 pregnancies and was considerably heavier. That was when I originally received the diagnosis of osteoarthritis. I was prescribed Mobic, but never got any physical therapy. And in 8 weeks, I was better. 

I had almost forgotten all about that until this past fall when I noticed the subtle signs that something was wrong with my knee again. It would give out suddenly and unexpectedly. It didn't hurt, but it scared me. I thought maybe it was it was just something to expect with getting older. But then the pain started up again, slowly at first. I thought it would just get better quickly because I am 30 pounds lighter than I was in 2011. But it just got progressively worse until I found myself standing in the choir loft, playing my flute for Christmas Eve, while standing on one leg. It was ridiculous. 

I finally decided that I was going to need medical help, and since I had already tried rest, ice, compression, and elevation to no avail, I knew that was the appropriate next step. As a health care consumer, I knew it was important to find out what was causing my pain, how serious it was and what I could do to get back to full function. 

I'm glad I did. I found out that I do have mild osteoarthritis in both knees, and that the prognosis for returning to full activity was very good. This time, I did get some physical therapy and discovered that my knee was giving out because the muscles supporting it were not as strong as they should be. I have since started strengthening those muscles the way I was taught and will probably continue to do that regularly even after I have fully recovered. 

Physical therapy was expensive and it was not covered by my insurance company. The place my doctor originally referred me to wanted $500 for the initial visit. I called around and found a place that did an initial assessment for only $125 with follow up visits at $75. I went four times and I think the information and training I received there was very helpful. 

Yet despite all of it, it has taken me 8 to 10 weeks to finally feel like I might really be able to get back to normal. Today I went for a walk for the first time since November. I only went about 1/4 of a mile, but that's a start. I plan to continue to help myself heal by seriously losing more weight, doing my rehab exercises, and keeping in touch with my sports medicine doctor as soon as any other symptoms develop. I have read that it is possible to keep osteoarthritis from worsening if one is diligent and I plan to do just that. I am also looking at some dietary changes to add more foods with anti-inflammatory properties and eliminating things that could be causing inflammation. 

Being a good health care consumer doesn't mean avoiding doctors. it means addressing issues and then responsibly participating in your own health and wellness. At this time in my life, that might become more time-consuming. However, continuing to be active to be with my family and do the types of exercise I enjoy makes it worth the effort to spend that kind of time on maintaining good health. 
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