Osteoarthritis

I have been a runner, on and off, most of my life. I loved running track as a child, tried cross country in high school and ran for recreation and exercise on my own into adulthood. But while training for a marathon in 2007, I suddenly experienced severe pain in my right knee. I had made it in training to the 20+ mile mark, but the subsequent week at mile 7 the pain came on out of nowhere.

Being very competitive, I was not giving up on the marathon. I went to top sports medicine doctors, had xrays, physical therapy and got a steroid injection in my knee. It was suggested that I had IT (Iliotibial) Band Syndrome so I rested it and treated it accordingly.

What happened in the marathon is in the marathon post (Inspiration-archives). What happened after the marathon is: I continued physical therapy, saw the sports medicine doctor but I never returned to running. My knee would go out now at 3 miles instead of 7. I got frustrated and turned to walking and hiking instead of running.

Fast forward 5 years. Raelene asks me if I want to try a new Bootcamp exercise class. I join with her and absolutely love it. Intense cardio and weight circuit training. Fun. However about 2 months in they add short bouts of running which they increase each week. Shortly thereafter my knee pain returns and I am sidelined.

Following a recommendation from the Bootcamp director, I crazily let a woman try to break up my IT band knots through forced massage. I am black and blue. Around the same time I am in the pediatric sports medicine office with another one of my children’s injuries when it occurs to me to speak to this doctor who we really like and have been using for almost 10 years. He can’t believe I haven’t been able to run for so long or that I’ve been massaged until I’m black and blue (which apparently doesn’t work). He has me stand up straight and then bend my knees. And he tells me my alignment looks off. Then he sends me for an MRI.

Diagnoses: Osteoarthritis, often known as “wear and tear” injury, affects millions of people around the world. Essentially it is the wearing down of the cartilage between bones as the result of time (age), excessive weight or injury. There is no known cure and it progressively worsens over time.

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The good news: I happened to be at the right doctor at the right time to get innovative treatment. Injections into the space where the cartilage has worn down of Hyaluronic Acid, a natural plant-based substance (Euflexxa brand), cushions and protects the joint. And over the past few years that I have been receiving it, insurance companies have begun to accept it as a normal (not experimental) procedure and to pay for it.

The upsides of this treatment are many: if you’re a candidate, this treatment can stave off further deterioration or eventual surgery – for me, knee replacement. It lasts for about 6 months before being absorbed in the body. It’s natural (Euflexxa) and not chemical. After the injections, my knee feels great and pain free. I can do many activities that I wouldn’t be able to do without it.

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Downsides? Relative to the benefits, minimal. The injections are a series of 3 – one per week for 3 weeks. If you don’t like needles injected into the affected joint space, that would be a downside. I don’t like it per se, but it’s worth it. You will likely be sore for a day or two and are recommended to rest the joint during that time. Additionally if your insurance doesn’t cover the procedure, it’s not inexpensive. I can’t quote it here because it will depend on the doctor, but it’s in the several thousands versus several hundreds.

For me, it’s been a miracle. Like getting a new knee every 6 months. And I’m not limited in what I can do – even trying to run again. Although I am now better educated on alignment, joints, aging and the “wear and tear” on our bodies over time, I’m not ready to give up or become sedentary. And thank goodness, I don’t have to.

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