Four years ago, a doctor diagnosed me as having a mild case of osteoarthritis in my knees. I had run too many kilometers for too many years on blacktop, and now I was paying the price. My running days, he told me, were over, and the best I could do was light exercise. But trial and painful error has shown that the doctor was mostly wrong. If I was selective, I found, I could still do the kind of heavy daily exercise I’ve been accustomed to since I was eight. I simply had to make some changes in my routine.
The first change was to add some exercises to my daily routine. Half-squats, I’ve found, are ideal for building up the muscles around my knees to take some of the strain from them. I also do some stretching, one leg at a time, with a piece of surgical tubing while sitting on a bed or mat, and lie on the floor and walk an exercise ball up the wall.
For my main exercise, I’ve left the road for the gym. I now do repetitions on an exercise bike, varying the speed, tension, and duration from day to day and repetition to repetition to keep my interest up. The bike allows me a sweaty workout, but, because my weight is off my legs, pedaling puts very little pressure on my knees – in fact, even more than the exercises, it helps to reduce the aches around my knees. True, switching from running to cycling has changed the shape of my leg muscles, but that’s a small price to pay.
Recently, I’ve also added sessions on the summit climber. At first, I thought the motion would be too much like climbing stairs for me to manage, but the machine is designed to minimize pressure on the legs. If anything, the summit climber is even better than the bike for strengthening my leg muscles so I can work around my lack of meniscus. However, it is harder on the knees than the exercise bike, so I only use it in moderation.
Sometimes, too, three or four kilometers of walking is beneficial. I’ve never liked the slow pace of walking, but I can do it.
The doctor was right that I can’t sustain the sixteen kilometer runs that I used to do. I can run one without trouble, but on the second day, my knees start to give way. If I am stupid enough to persist for four or five days, my knees start to swell.
But I can manage five kilometers a day indefinitely, especially when they are added to my time on the bike and the summit climber. And, every now and then, for a change of pace when I’m feeling nostalgic, I can do ten or twelve kilometers. If my speed isn’t what it was – well, growing older was slowing me anyway.
At first, I worried that these exercises would hurry the degeneration of my knees. However, from experience, I doubt that is the case. My legs are stronger and my knees hurt less after a session on the bike, and I am now healthier and more active than I was when the doctor delivered his verdict of doom, and generally have much less discomfort in my knees, too.
Obviously, how active you can be with osteoarthritis depends on its severity. I’ve been lucky that my problems are relatively mild. But I’m convinced that the exercises I have discovered can not only help alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis, but also keep many of those with the condition far more active than they (or my former doctor) imagines. My only regret is that the doctor who diagnosed me has since moved away, so I can’t have the satisfaction of telling him that he was wrong.