At 28, I was diagnosed with early onset, chronic osteoarthritis in my right ankle. Now, at 39, I’ve been through two surgeries, countless hours of physical therapy and I’m facing the very real possibility of an ankle fusion in the next few years, maybe sooner.

After my diagnosis, I got caught up in believing there’s a cure or some new experimental treatment that’ll fix my ankle OA. I remember dreaming of being able to play basketball again and be free of my stiff and swollen joint. But, I quickly learned that there would be no cure and that my days of playing basketball were behind me.

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped daydreaming of playing basketball again or taking another backpacking trip through the Sierra Mountains, but now I know, and more importantly – I accept, that I can no longer realistically hope that I can one day do those activities.

As I weigh my treatment options and think about what life with be like with a chronically arthritic ankle over the next few years, I have to maintain a sense of realistic hope of what “could be.” Having realistic hope about what the future holds is an important tool for managing the daily up and downs of living with early-onset osteoarthritis. Here are three ways realistic hope has helped me better manage my OA:

1. Short and Long Term Physical Expectations

Knowing my body and its limits has helped to set realistic expectations about what type of activities can and can’t be done due to osteoarthritis. Feeling too confident or thinking I can’t do an activity anymore will only hinder my ability to manage my osteoarthritis. With my severe ankle osteoarthritis, backpacking trips are a thing of the past. Because I’ve come to accept I can no longer do certain activities, I now have the freedom to find new and more osteoarthritis-friendly ones to try out.

2. Osteoarthritis Affects Me Differently than Others

Osteoarthritis affects people in many different ways. There are those who are able to play tennis, go for hikes, run or work in the garden. But just because some people can perform certain activities doesn’t necessarily mean everyone with OA can.

After all these years, I still find myself saying, “I wish I could do that!” when I see people with osteoarthritis going on backpacking trips, playing basketball, or simply walking without a limp! But the condition of my ankle doesn’t allow me to do those activities as much as I would like, or at all. Only when I stopped comparing myself to others with OA was I able to manage my OA in the best way possible for me.

3. Develop Emotional and Physical Well-Being

Being realistic about how osteoarthritis will affect my lifestyle has helped keep my emotions and physical well-being in check. It was easy to lose focus after being diagnosed at a young age, and facing decades of stiff and sore joints has felt overwhelming. However, maintaining realistic hope created a sense of emotional and physical well-being because I was being true to myself. Only after I was able to be true to myself was I able to work towards a stable emotional and physical well-being.

I went through a roller-coaster of emotions the first year after my diagnosis. To overcome those emotions, I needed to realistic about my future and only then, could I begin to work on the emotional and physical pieces. By no means have I mastered living with OA, but I’m now much better equipped to deal with the rough days and fully enjoy the days when things are feeling…not too bad!

Creating a sense of realistic hope hasn’t been easy for me. It’s taken a lot of patience, acceptance and time. But it has been worth it. Being real about how osteoarthritis currently affects my life and how it will impact the years ahead have allowed me to prepare for the worse while hoping for the best. It’s also been able to open more doors, allowing me to meet people dealing with similar issues and find new and exciting activities to learn, all while not allowing my OA to get the best of me!

Without realistic hope, it’s easy to become distracted and lose sight of how to best manage osteoarthritis. But when realistic hope is maintained it’s an extremely useful tool is managing OA.

To read more about Ryan’s journey managing his OA at his personal blog: From Athletics to Arthritis

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