Osteoarthritis develops gradually and cannot be cured. Once it has been diagnosed, it can change the patient’s whole life. That was the case for Simon. These days, the passionate athlete from Cape Town (South Africa) is in semi-retirement and immensely enjoys playing bowls. He manages to control his osteoarthritis of the knee with exercise and a changed lifestyle. An encouraging story.
It happened in the middle of a squash tournament. Simon’s knee suddenly gave out. “I was pretty annoyed and limped off the court. I really wanted to beat that guy. Afterwards, I went to the physician, who diagnosed the knee damage. And that was the end of my squash career,” the sports-loving pensioner reports. And it wasn’t only squash that Simon’s osteoarthritis of the knee put an end to. He could also no longer play field hockey. “That was terrible because I’ve always loved very physical sports. But I had to work it out and change my life,” he says with hindsight.
Consequences of being diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee: bowls instead of field hockey and squash
Simon lives with osteoarthritis of the knee at an advanced stage. The cartilage in his knee is extremely worn, which has reduced the joint space. This means that he can barely walk a hundred meters before his knee starts to hurt. He can also no longer go cycling. Despite all this, Simon hasn’t lost his spirit and enthusiasm. Instead of field hockey, squash and golf, he now plays bowls and restores antique furniture to indulge his urge to be active. In order to slow the progression of his osteoarthritis and to control his pain, Simon additionally carries out specific knee exercises. “My osteoarthritis has definitely improved. Yet there are still times when my knee starts acting up again. But then I just go easy, rest my knee and take my time before I slowly start again with the exercises,” he explains.
I can’t just sit down and read a book. I need to get out and be active.
As with most patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, the joint condition also developed gradually in Simon. Most likely, the trigger for his osteoarthritis was his consistently very athletic life-style. Simon played cricket for the South African National Team. He was also an enthusiastic field hockey, squash, and golf player – all sports that subject the knee joint to a lot of strain in the long term and drive cartilage wear. His biggest challenge was to gradually give up his hobbies: “It’s not that easy for a competitive athlete. I can’t just sit down and read a book. I need to get out and be active.”
Why exercise is essential in cases of osteoarthritis
For patients suffering from osteoarthritis, exercise isn’t just perfect because it reduces pain; it also provides an opportunity to take your mind off the condition. This was the case for Simon, who loves sports and competitions, but was no longer able to do either from one moment to the next. “So I decided to play bowls. And now I even take part in tournaments.” This high-precision sport is about getting one’s own ball as close as possible to a smaller target ball. No abrupt movements, no jumps that put strain on the joints – an ideal sport for osteoarthritis patient Simon. At home, in a small gym, he does specific leg exercises to mobilize his knee joint. “And just before going to bowls, I do a few leg exercises to prepare my knee. One of those games takes a few hours after all,” Simon explains.
I’ve learned to deal with the pain and live with it.
Combating pain with exercise
With bowls, regular exercises and Bauerfeind’s SecuTec OA orthosis, Simon has managed to get his osteoarthritis of the knee under control. But that was a long and arduous journey. The physicians who diagnosed his osteoarthritis advised Simon to take medication and to undergo an arthroscopy.
But Simon opted for other treatment options, focusing on exercise. Initially, he took a break from sports for about a year, carefully monitoring his condition to work out which exercise and which intensity was beneficial for his knees. He also followed his physician’s advice and did physiotherapy. That is where he learned the exercises he still regularly does today. Those are very gentle, easy exercises that don’t take him beyond his pain threshold. Wearing his Bauerfeind SecuTec OA orthosis also helps him. It supports patients like Simon with moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the knee to stay active, and it alleviates their pain.
Nevertheless, pain is practically an everyday occurrence for Simon. His biggest challenge is to reduce pain to a bearable level and to stay active at the same time: “The pain is severe on some days. But I’ve learned to deal and live with it. Sometimes, I take pain medication if it’s too bad, but I try to avoid that as much as possible.”
Even though it was initially hard for Simon to give up field hockey and squash and to switch to the “old man’s sport” of bowls, as he calls it, he has managed to adjust to a life with osteoarthritis of the knee. Thanks to bowls, he can stay active and still pursue his athletic ambitions. It’s the perfect combination for Simon. He advises other patients not to wait too long before going to see a physician in cases of ongoing knee pain. You should take physician’s diagnosis seriously, follow treatment suggestions and try to stay optimistic, Simon insists. “You have to believe in yourself. Thoughts have a huge impact, and they help. The symptoms of my osteoarthritis have definitely eased. But I believe that is also connected with your mindset.”