Like a lot of osteo-arthritis sufferers, I found my diagnosis came as something of a surprise. For years, I had been a keen runner, swimmer and Pilates devotee, and I dismissed the nagging pain in my hip as muscular discomfort resulting from over-doing it a bit.
After a year or so, when the pain in my hip began to travel down to my knee after a run, I finally mentioned it to my GP. She gave me a referral to a physiotherapy clinic where I was advised to stop running, to rest and to complete a number of exercises and stretches at home. I did all of the above diligently and returned every four weeks or so to have my progress assessed.
At every session, I was also offered “massage treatment” to release my “trigger points”. “Oooh lovely, yes, please,” I recall saying the first time round, thinking how nice it would be to have a relaxing massage. Ha! I soon discovered that “massage” in this context meant something a world away from the pleasant spa experience of my imagination which, of course, involved aromatic candles, fluffy towels, warm, fragrant oils, soothing sounds of the sea interspersed with the odd whale call.
In fairness, I should have guessed something painful was to come when my physio reminded me to tell her if the treatment became too intense to bear by raising a hand if I found myself unable to speak. A “safe word” for a massage? Really? What kind of a wimp did she think I was? And then, the treatment started…
My physio understandably believed that my pain was muscular and linked to an inflexible ITB (or iliotibial band which is the fascia that extends from knee to hip along the outside of the thigh). The massage initially involved pressing hard on trigger points otherwise known as clumps of knotted muscle fibres in my thigh. That wasn’t too bad and actually provided some relief. The ITB release, however, involved dragging an elbow with strong pressure slowly along the outside of my thigh. Oh boy, that hurts. And I’ve had two children. At the end, I was congratulated on not crying.
As the months ticked by, I was getting worse instead of better. Although I had stopped running and was doing all the recommended exercises and stretches, I was finding my range of movement was reducing and my pain was increasing. My sleep began to be disturbed, and, to my astonishment, I found myself waking up in tears on occasion.
After nearly a year, my physio decided to refer me to her boss as she confessed to being flummoxed by my continuing symptoms. And so, a few weeks later, I met the senior manager of the team. She asked me some questions about my medical history and any past injuries to my hip (none). She asked me to stand up and demonstrate how close to the floor I could comfortably reach with straight legs to assess my hamstring length. Then she asked me to lie on the bed with my leg in the air with a bent knee. She gently moved my leg around to assess the range of flexion and rotation my hip could accommodate. Within seconds, she said she was 99.9% sure I had severe osteo-arthritis and was in need of a hip replacement. She said she would refer me for an xray at the local hospital to confirm her diagnosis and would phone me when the results arrived.
This was not at all what I expected. I remember saying that I was too young to have arthritis or a hip replacement. With gentle good humour, she explained my condition wasn’t like voting and that, although I was atypically young for such severe symptoms unrelated to an injury, arthritis does not have a minimum qualifying age.
Within a few weeks, I was called in for the x-ray and then received confirmation that the predicted diagnosis was indeed correct.