"Arthritis? That’s just for old people right?" Wrong.
I am 26 years old and two years ago, almost to the day as it happens, I was diagnosed with Osteoarthritis.
Anyone suffering with Arthritis (a blanket term covering more than 200 different types) will understand the severity of the condition, the toll it can take on your mental and physical well-being, and the damage it does to the quality of your life. But for anyone reading this who’s only experience of it is hearing their grandparents groan when they sit down, let’s set the record straight: although this thing I have was only given a name two years ago, I’ve had it since I was 12 years old. It happened quickly. I was walking home from school when a pain in my right hip left me unable to keep going and my mum had to come and pick me up. From there, almost overnight I went from being a ‘normal’ pre-teen hanging out with my friends, playing sports and worrying about boys, to using a wheelchair and spending more time in hospital waiting areas than in school. Arthritis, in layman’s terms, means ‘wear and tear’ of a joint. There are many reasons why some people’s joints wear out faster than others - a congenital predisposition, obesity, physical inactivity, a sports injury, an infection, an immune system malfunction. Or just bad luck. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of Arthritis – an estimated 8.75 million people in the UK have seen a doctor about Osteoarthritis according to the charity Versus Arthritis - and it usually occurs in an isolated joint.
OA in the hips leaves you with a joint with little to no protective cartilage surrounding the ball and socket which means the femoral head (ball) rubs bone to bone with the acetabulum (socket). This rubbing causes inflammation and, in some cases, a build-up of scar tissue that results in pain and reduced mobility, both of which will get worse as time goes on. In a nutshell? OA is fucking shit. It’s shit for everyone, men and women, young and old. But I am a young woman so let me tell you something about the physical and emotional effects of OA on me and all the other OA ladies. I won’t bang on about the social pressures put on women’s bodies to ‘look a certain way’ because we all get it. Instagram, Facebook, porn, nearly every magazine and T.V advert will include some form of the half-naked, bronzed goddess we are somehow supposed to emulate. But having OA makes it near impossible to rely on your body alone to maintain a healthy weight or a healthy cardiovascular system. This can lead to low self-esteem, poor body image fatigue and/or depression. There’s also a higher risk of developing some form of eating disorder, which are already more common in young women than in young men. Why? Because one of the only pieces of advice we are given to help manage the symptoms of OA is to maintain a low body mass index so as not to put added pressure on our joints. Not only that, but we are told to keep up regular cardiovascular exercise in order to keep joints supple, reduce weight and avoid developing diabetes, coronary heart disease or having a stroke, all of which increase when you have an underlying chronic condition. Arthritis really is the gift that keeps on giving isn’t it?
I don’t think I need to highlight the irony here. A disease that reduces your ability to exercise, and we are told to … exercise?
So what does having OA actually feel like? Well, it’s exhausting and especially as a woman, it can be incredibly embarrassing. I can’t sit crossed legged, bring my knees to my chest, kneel or bend down. I can’t even tie my shoelaces without contorting my leg into strange and painful positions, and who knows how much hair is growing on the outside of my legs. I blindly wave the razor around, just hoping for the best. My hips will grind and noticeably click when I walk. Sometimes my leg will completely lock or give way meaning I either lose balance and fall, or shout profanities to the heavens, sometimes both. I also have to sleep in a cocoon of pillows and blankets, some of them shoved between my legs for support, but even then, the pain will often keep me awake and I will resolve myself to midnight whisky snifters and fags for comfort. Then there’s menstruation and fertility. Aside from the fact that metal-on-metal hip replacements (which are the most common type) have recently been linked to possible infertility in women, due to metal ions being released into the bloodstream, a woman’s overall holistic health is kept completely separate, as far as I have found.
I asked one doctor if he thought my OA could be affecting my periods, which have increased in pain and irregularity the longer it goes untreated. His response?
‘That’s not my area’.
Brilliant. I do love a concise man. Multiple doctors have informed me that due to the misalignment of my pelvis, my womb and cervix are tilted, which may make it difficult for me to conceive naturally. The only advice I’ve been given is to have regular fertility check ups. I’ve then had about five different types of contraceptive pill thrown at me to help reduce symptoms of PMS. And aren’t the side effects of the pill an absolute treat?
Finally, don’t even get me started on sex. OA usually occurs in the hips and knees. That makes it extremely difficult for a woman to go ‘on top’, only adding to the toxic idea of women who want more ‘traditional’ positions like missionary (which puts very little physical strain on joints) being ‘lazy’ or ‘boring’ in bed. Add that to the fact that it’s very difficult for a woman to reach orgasm without being in control of her clitoral stimulation and you end up with shame, embarrassment and a lot less pleasure! (I once had a guy forcefully maneuverer my body to get me on top … only to tell me I wasn’t moving fast enough for him. What a charmer eh? But there are tips and tricks - I’ve never experienced any pain relating to my Arthritis from a guy going down on me for example. Just saying!). I am unlucky to have OA at my age but according to an article in The Guardian written in 2015, 27,000 people under the age of 25 have some form of Arthritis, which means I am not alone…So here I am. 26 with Osteoarthritis. I am fortunate enough to be on the waitlist for an experimental procedure called ‘Hip Resurfacing’, which offers better mobility and longevity for younger hips, but who knows when that will be with CoronaVirus putting so much of our lives on hold. In the meantime, we need to raise awareness and understanding. Osteoarthritis is an ‘invisible disease’ but that doesn’t mean the impact it has on us should be kept hidden too. So here’s an idea … lets start talking about Arthritis.
Article written by Leah Deeney
For more information on dealing with Arthritis as a young person visit Arthur's Place
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