How Exercise Cured My Joint Pain
Strength training exercise for Osteoarthritis and Lupus
Joining the gym is the best thing that ever happened to me. I look at older people, all hunched and limping, walkers and sticks, and think that could have been me.
My health started to deteriorate in 1997, most likely due to overwork and stress. I really wasn’t well but put it down to middle-age and menopause. I was fatigued, ached in every joint, dizzy, rashes, terrific heartbeats. I wasn’t coping well mentally or physically so decided to have a couple of months of sick leave but then I came right again for a while. By 2000 I was really ill and struggling with anxiety as well. I started having panic attacks and wouldn’t go into a shopping centre in case I got dizzy. I thought I was going to die but nobody could tell me what was wrong. I went to a gynaecologist, had a hysterectomy, and then he said I’ve just got bad anxiety and recommended a good GP who put me onto medication for depression and anxiety.
I was 60 years old, extremely tired and not coping. My adult children had both moved to Hobart, so after talking it over with them I put my house on the market, resigned from my job as a maths teacher, and moved from Launceston to Hobart.
I started having regular urinary tract infections but the doctors still didn’t know why I was so unwell. When I came down with a kidney infection everyone jumped up and down and thought, This kid is sick. In hindsight I was desperately ill, just dragging myself around and not well enough to do anything. Finally, a doctor in Hobart saw the big raspberry rash across my face and said, You’ve got lupus. I had blood tests to confirm the diagnosis before going to see a specialist. I went downhill very quickly, I was on cortisone injections and pain killers, and could barely walk by this stage. My legs and knees were so swollen I couldn’t get up the small step at my front door without using my sticks. I came down with another kidney infection and ended up in hospital where they put me on antibiotics to stop all of this before I ended up on dialysis. By 2016 both my boys were living in Melbourne and when I visited I had to bum shuffle to get up the stairs. They said, This is enough, and found me a consultant in Melbourne who specialises in lupus and arthritis. At my first appointment he said I needed to get very fit which I thought was stupid – I could hardly walk, let alone get fit.
But he said I needed to get a personal trainer and go three times a week because as he explained, the muscles have to take over and take some of the stress off the joints. Arthritis can move around with lupus. My joints were swollen and in a very bad state, one knee was damaged, my neck cartilage was very thin, and my wrists swollen. I just thought I was not going to become a gym person I’ve never darkened a door of a gym – never even thought about it. But when I got home to Hobart my son rang to say he’d already found me a personal trainer. Her name is Sheree King at Spice Health & Fitness and your appointment is at 3pm tomorrow. I thought, bugger. But they’d already paid the first three months, so I had to go.
When I got there and saw all the stairs, I thought hell, but shuffled up there pulling myself up with the help of the bannisters and met Sheree. She did some tests to see how I was and then I thought I’d give it a go because the boys had paid a lot of money. I always commit to what I say so thought I’ll just struggle through for three months.
When I first started exercises with Sheree I thought, Oh God! She asked me if I could get up off the floor and I thought, I can’t. But she showed me how and we practiced and practiced. I did lots of balance work, learned to walk straight and stand straight – she was always at me for hunching my shoulders. Within three weeks I was much better. I noticed I was a lot looser, I could move better, and didn’t need my stick. Within three months I had lost weight. My medications were reduced. I was still on pain killers at night at that stage, but not during the day very often. I was well. I was back to my usual self – the depression had gone and the anxiety diminished completely. After three months with Sheree I decided to keep going. It was working.
I had to go back to the specialist in Melbourne at the end of each month and he was flabbergasted that I was coming on so well. By the end of three months he said I could stop monthly visits and just see him four times a year. He was delighted and reckons he should send every patient he has to Sheree.
I eventually changed to group classes twice a week. Now I can walk everywhere and I started a walking group with the Probus club. We go for a walk once a month then go out for something to eat afterwards. When I was unwell I couldn’t garden or manage the house, but now I can do anything I want really. When my son built the deck on my house I even helped bang all the nails in.
When I became unwell I couldn’t really travel and needed wheelie cases whenever I went anywhere. Now traveling is a breeze and I often help my travel companions with their luggage instead. I’ve done a lot of traveling now – including a 29-day Mediterranean tour, and a visit to Scandinavia and Russia which was just unbelievable!
There’s a sense of community at Spice Fitness which is very important. I always feel welcomed and there’s great encouragement. Sheree is marvellous. She always encourages you to work at your own speed and just do what you want to do. If you want to stop that’s it, and there’s lower weights if you don’t feel comfortable. She only pushes you within your own limits.
When I was first visiting the specialist in Melbourne I was just flying back and forth and hadn’t seen the grandchildren for a while. As I became more well, I remember my seven-year old grandson saying, What’s happened to Nanny. She’s so different. They couldn’t believe I went to the gym. Now I play outside or go swimming with them. I couldn’t even walk on sand before.
The last time I used my sticks was the first week I saw Sheree and my doctor says I’ve escaped two knee replacements because of strength training. I’m living a better life now than I did in the last years of teaching. I’ve got my life back. It’s as simple as that.