Steve's Story: Coping With Arthritis
After being away from sports since his college days, Steve decided it was time to get back in shape and back into the game. Squash (an indoor racquet sport) and weight training topped his list of activities to enjoy again. And he did for a while—until arthritis turned his enjoyment into pain.
First signs of pain
Steve first thought something might be wrong when he couldn't make it through a squash game without feeling pain. He moved around the court just fine. But as soon as he stopped, his left hip would freeze up and hurt. "I would be very stiff, and I would have a hard time walking the next day," he says.
"I thought the stiffness and pain in my hip was just from the stress I was putting on my muscles," Steve says. "But when I changed my exercise routine or stopped working out, the pain was still there. And it was getting worse."
The pain began to interfere with other things in his life. As a university professor, he found it hard to stand and teach all day. "I would have shooting pain up and down my leg and back," he says. "I would have to shift my weight, sit down, or just try to find positions that weren't so painful." Trips to Europe and Asia were "sheer torture," says Steve.
He also found it hard to sleep at night. "The pain would come and go. It wasn't a sharp pain, but a kind of ache that would keep me awake a lot. I could never stay in one position for very long."
Dealing with the pain
For several years, Steve dealt with his pain as best he could, even if that meant he walked with a limp. He would take an over-the-counter pain medicine every day and keep busy to take his mind off the pain.
When Steve couldn't deal with the pain anymore, he went to see a doctor. An X-ray showed that he had arthritis in his hip. Steve's doctor suggested that he have his hip replaced.
Steve was only 46 years old at the time. "I wasn't sure about having surgery since I was so young. I had heard that an artificial hip could give out in 10 to 20 years," he says. "I was worried that I might need to get another one later on. I was also concerned about the risks of having surgery."
Steve decided to wait. He wasn't ready to have the surgery so early in his life. Instead, he started to take a prescription anti-inflammatory medicine to help relieve the pain. It helped for a while.
Time for surgery
"But when the medicine I was taking stopped working, I figured I had gone as far as I could go with this and decided to go ahead with the surgery," Steve says.
At age 55, Steve got a new hip, and he's happy that he did. "I was pretty much pain-free after about a month and a half. It's a strange feeling to be able to walk without a limp and to walk up and down stairs without grabbing onto the railing."
He encourages others who might need surgery to find a doctor they can trust. Steve also says it's important to ask a lot of questions and be clear on the risks and benefits of having the surgery. And, if it's possible, he suggests that people try to relieve the pain with medicine and exercise first, especially if their pain isn't really bad, because it may help for a while.
Even though Steve had to give up playing squash after his surgery, he's now back to enjoying other activities that once caused him pain, such as traveling overseas and sightseeing. "I could barely make it through a small part of the day," he says. "Now, these things are a pleasure again."
Steve's story reflects his experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Steve, to protect his privacy.
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Stanford M. Shoor MD - Rheumatology