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Helen learns to exercise with arthritis

Posted by on 6 September 2016 | 3 Comments

During the past two years I was able to achieve a new level and fitness that I previously never felt possible. Two of my highlights in this period were completing my first 10km swim in 2014 and last year I fulfilled my desire to walk on the Great Wall of China.

A summary of my weekly exercise often included a combination of some of the following:

  • 3-5 swims a week, ranging in distance from 2-5km, including Masters Swim Meets and Open Water Swims
  • a session with my personal trainer
  • weekly group class with MBM
  • parkrun on Saturdays when I am not swimming or bushwalking
  • participating in MBM virtual challenges
  • bushwalks on weekends (whenever possible)
  • my own personal morning exercise sessions – usually some type of walk
  • participating in some of the fun runs/walks like the City To Surf, Mothers’ Day Classic, Western Sydney Marathon, Stadium Stomp

However, this year I have had to make a number of changes to my previous rigorous exercise that I have loved.

At the beginning of this year I noticed difficulty in my movement, especially my walking.  As a consequence, I was referred to a sports physician.  The outcome of this was I have been diagnosed with a condition called Sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SI) which is improper movement of the joints at the bottom of the spine that connect the scrum to the pelvis. This explained the reason for a number of symptoms I had experienced over a number of years for the way I walked. There was also much wear and tear on my joints which has also led to me being diagnosed with Osteoarthritis. On top of all of this, I have also had to deal with Plantar Fasciitis in my heel and then more recently a lateral gastrocnemius tear in my calf muscle.

How has it affected my exercise routine? It is still early days for me working out what I can and cannot do.  This is something that I expect will be a moving fencepost as there are so many variables that keep changing, such as more recently the tear in my calf muscle. But for me, I am not one quitting – exercise has become a big part of my lifestyle.

These are some of the things I have learnt in this process:

  • Osteoarthritis is a chronic (long-term) condition. There is no quick cure, it has to be managed.
  • One of the most beneficial ways to manage arthritis is to get moving.  It does help reduce pain.  So that means keep exercising!
  • Strengthening exercises are particularly important. Slow, gentle stretching of joints may improve flexibility, lessen stiffness and reduce pain.
  • Weight management is important to reduce stress on weight-bearing joints such as hips, knees, feet and back.

As a person who loves to exercise, I definitely want to find what is right for me.  At this point of time I am trying to do the following. My specialist has said to avoid running, sprinting and jumping.  Also walk slowly, mainly on flat ground.  Swimming is fine.

Here are some of the things I am currently working on doing:

  • Swimming.  I am so glad that swimming is my major sport.  I would like to do another major swim in the near future for motivation to get my training back to where it used to be.
  • My PT sessions – mainly working on strength sessions
  • My MBM session – doing low impact version of most exercises
  • Walking – still walking as often as I can – some of my sessions are shorter than what I was doing last year
  • Parkrun.  I have still been participating in the weekly parkrun most weeks.  My times have been so much slower than they were when I was at peak fitness.  I am often the last to finish, but the main aim is participating.  I love the new T-Shirt I recently bought – Speed Does Not Matter – Forward is Forward.
  • Making sure I do my stretching exercises each day.
  • Working on losing the weight that I have gained in the last year – mainly due to another stressful situation (which I am also working on).

It has been discouraging not being able to do everything that I want to do, such as not being able to participate in the City to Surf this year, and seeing my times get slower, especially at parkrun.  But I have to remember that I am still able to exercise and keep moving. I am so glad I did my China trip last year – so don’t put off achieving your goal.

Helen Rubin, group class member at Epping















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