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Rebecca Barnard

2016-08-04 07:00

Nora's Story

My knees started creaking in my 40s and in recent years have given me pain when going downhill, although until recently going up- hill was a doddle. Now, aged 68, carrying anything upstairs has begun to be difficult and all my muscles and joints seem stiffer and more painful, although they generally only hurt when I am active. A particular problem, besides my knees, is tight muscles in my back, mainly across the shoulders and down the right-hand side of my spine, which causes backache and painful spasms.

I had a knee x-ray four or five years ago which confirmed osteoarthritis. Whilst I can still manage with exercises and without pain killers, I haven't been back.

I have a variety of self-help strategies:

I try to do a Pilates class once a week and a daily mixture of stretches, using a foam roller and using the cross trainer; I confess though that this can all get neglected at particularly busy times. My best and most used and most convenient secret weapon is my tennis ball!

The exercises I do are for general fitness and also concentrate on helping my knees and back. My routine has been built on exercises recommended by a physiotherapist, chiropractor, sports masseuse and the internet, plus a little HIT (High-Intensity Training) jogging on the spot.

The cross trainer definitely helps my leg muscles and therefore up and downhill movement, as does doing squats. I find lunges/reverse lunges very painful but try to do a few small ones regularly to help both muscles and flexibility.

The stretches are highly beneficial as they loosen everything up and increase overall flexibility. The tennis ball helps to work on trigger points. I usually use the wall and rolling the ball between myself and the wall, working around the areas of the buttocks, spine, shoulder blades and shoulders. When I find a trigger point I lean a little heavier on the ball and wait for the muscle to relax. I roll away from the trigger point and then back on to it to repeat just once more. I take the ball with me when travelling and can use it unobtrusively anywhere, e.g. when visiting friends, on the train, as a car passenger etc. I also roll the tennis ball around my knees, chest and shoulders which helps with pain in those areas too.

My back was still being troublesome but this spring I started acupuncture via Arthritis Action which gives members an allowance of four free sessions a year, plus good advice.

Via the acupuncturist, I discovered Tui Na massage which uses a sort of push-pull manipulation rather than deep thumb pressure. Both have been hugely beneficial in helping release my tight back muscles and providing I am sensible regarding the activities I do and keep up with my self-help activities, my back has been much more comfortable for quite a while. I can still feel it hovering and waiting to strike, which keeps me on the right path.

Now that my back is under some sort of control I intend to have the acupuncturist concentrate on my knees, to see whether the procedure can give me some benefits or at least slow down the deterioration.

Overall, I have to accept that things are going to get more painful and my life will become more restricted, the more I can do myself to hold back that process the more active time I will have.

I do think the weather influences my pain and I noticed a marked deterioration last November/December after a prolonged spell of very wet weather. I was less active too over the winter and into the spring when my back was really troubling me and I am still trying to get muscles and joints back to what they were, but think my years are against that.

I joined the Cloudy study because my knees were getting more painful and the rest of me hurts when I do things, but hurts even more if I stop. I can't expect research to find out what might help me if I am not prepared to put in the time to help the researchers.

If you would like to get in touch with Nora, you can find her on the Health Unlocked Cloudy community under the username noraboswell.