I remember my grandpa had osteoarthritis in his knees. Still, into his 80s he was relatively active, but on occasion he used a cane for added support when his osteoarthritis had really flared up.
Growing up and into my early adult life, that was what I imaged a person with osteoarthritis looked like. Someone, like my grandpa, 65 or older, with a bad hip or knee that caused them to move more slowly and gingerly.
That perception dramatically changed when I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right ankle at 28 years old. About 37 years too early according to my misconceptions.
Now at 38 years old, I’m not someone who comes to mind when talking about osteoarthritis. I’m 6’6’” with an athletic build and still pretty activity. I enjoy walking my dog, working out, and fishing and backpacking…when my OA allows.
Being young with severe osteoarthritis also call for a very different approach to how I manage my lifestyle. I wear an Arizona AFO ankle brace to make walking a little less painful. I watch my diet and try to eat OA friendly foods. I do ankle strength and flexibility exercises everyday. I monitor my activity levels so I don’t overdo it on any particular day, and I take Meloxicam, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory that reduces pain, swelling, and stiffness.
But no matter how much I try to manage it there are times, more often than I would like, when I end up sitting on my couch for hours at a time, or all day long because my ankle is too sore and stiff for me to do much of anything.
Ankles braces, special diets and arthritis drugs are not things typically associated with a healthy looking 38 year old. I get a wide range of reactions when I tell people the following:
- “No, I don’t have a sprained ankle. It’s permanently swollen like that.”
- “That’s not a cast. It’s an ankle brace. I need it to help me walk, otherwise it would be too painful.”
- “I’m using the trekking poles to help take a bit of a load off my ankle when I’m walking or standing around.”
Those comments elicit all types of responses, and I’ve heard it all over the past 10 years. The responses range from the surprised to annoying to supportive. Here are a few of the more common ones:
- But you’re too young to get osteoarthritis – are you sure that’s what you have?
- You’re going to be in some real pain when you get older!
- It’s good to hear you keep working out and staying active.
- Have your tried ________? It worked for a friend of mine and he’s back playing basketball!
- Yeah, my grandma has problems with her hip because of arthritis. You two should talk and share what you do for treatments.
- Oohhhh…tough luck buddy!
- So does your ankle hurt now? Like, all the time?
- But the good thing is you have a great attitude and don’t let it get you down!
- So do you think it’s going to rain today?
- You have ankle arthritis? I can relate, let me tell you about the time I sprained my ankle.
Over the years, I’ve learned to shrug off most of the responses. It’s good to hear supportive ones, but the annoying ones don’t bother me anymore.
Just like learning how to deal with lifestyle change to accommodate osteoarthritis, I also had to learn how to accept people’s reactions when I told them I was 28 with an arthritic ankle. This wasn’t an easy or quick process either. To help me through the process, thankfully I had a dependable support system of friends and family, I was proactive and read as much as I could about treatment options and managing my OA, and I learned how to create and balance a new lifestyle that was more OA friendly. Since I had that foundation in place, as I learned to better accept and manage my OA, only then I was able to brush aside the stigma other people have of me being a young adult with OA.
From how people react to my osteoarthritis to the frustrations of not being able to keep up with your friends or doing the activities I would love to do, it’s all part of the process of having to take the long-term approach to successfully manage my OA. I guess that’s one of the advantages of getting OA at a young age – I have a lot of time to figure out how I can best manage it for myself.
To read more about Ryan’s journey visit his personal blog