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How I Stay Active with Osteoarthritis

29th April 2020

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By Frances Ive, Author of One Step Ahead of Osteoarthritis

I used to be a regular tennis player but my knee became so painful about eight years ago that I was limping off the court. I went for an X-ray, which showed nothing, but the consultant made me aware of the osteoarthritis (OA) running around my knee with a subsequent MRI scan. He said it was ‘good news’ because there was no need for intervention and suggested that I carry on being active - I wasn’t offered any medication, which I was happy about.

Following the appointment, I got an exercise bike as my forays outside on a bicycle proved a bit dangerous with traffic and inclement weather. I built up the exercise gradually, which initially hurt my knee but always made me feel good afterwards. The motion of cycling builds up the muscle around the knee providing protection to the joint.

In addition, I started having regular acupuncture to encourage the free flow of blood and energy to the knee.

I was back on the tennis court after three months.

The next thing I knew, my fingers and thumbs were really painful and pretty swollen after playing, so another X-ray revealed OA. I tried lots of different things to improve my fingers and thumbs, including massage, exercise, acupuncture and supplements, alongside the use of a small home laser device.

One time when I was aching all over, I decided I need to take my own advice as a health writer and change my diet. I really got on top of this problem by reading up on dietary changes I should and trying to make my diet more alkaline.

I didn’t originally give up on drinking wine, which is very acidic and not only affected my joints but also upset my stomach, but now I have; however, I am fine drinking sparkling wines and organic cider. The sulphites in wine can cause many problems, but the sparking varieties don’t tend to contain these preservatives - particularly Champagne and Cava!

I also cut down on potatoes and tomatoes, and stopped eating aubergines altogether, as these are all members of the Nightshade family and not always good for people with OA. A nutritious diet is essential for good health and the Mediterranean diet is particularly recommended due to it having plenty of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and olive oil.

Additionally, I started having apple cider vinegar, which sounds very counter-intuitive as it’s so acidic, but the body metabolises it so it becomes alkaline. A dessertspoonful in a glass of warm or cold water in the morning, with some honey to sweeten it, is a good idea - not a great taste but good for an acidic body. The best to have is Cider Vinegar with Mother as it hasn’t had all the natural goodness removed.

Previously, I had tried all kinds of supplements but my new daily regime includes turmeric, no-blush Niacin (vitamin 3), fish oils or other Omega 3s, as well as multivitamins and extra vitamins C and D. If my knee or hands are very painful, I use Chinese Woodlock, which is available in some places in the UK but is usually sent from Hong Kong.

My joints are definitely worse in wet, cold weather, so I suffer more in January and February and feel fairly normal during the summer months. Any kind of liniment is helpful to ease pain and increase warmth, for instance, soaking your hands in hot water or holding them on a warming wheat bag. A hand-held laser device can be useful too.

I have plenty more practical suggestions, such as:

  • Wearing a rucksack rather than handing a handbag over your arm or shoulder
  • Not carrying heavy shopping
  • Sporting good, comfortable shoes (if necessary, changing into smarter ones when you arrive at your destination)
  • Plenty of warmth on the joints
  • Regular exercise - personally, I like yoga and Tai chi. The latter is excellent for OA, but pilates and other specific stretching exercises are very helpful.
  • Regular massage and acupuncture are good as well as a whole host of complementary therapies.

It is important to remember that you don’t give in to it - make sure you stay mobile and active, and maintain a really good quality of life.

My book, One Step Ahead of Osteoarthritis, is filled with many more insights, including more detailed exercise ideas and diagrams. It is available from Amazon, Hammersmith Health Books, Waterstones and other good bookshops.

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