Running with Osteoarthritis?

September 28, 2012 in Running with Osteoarthritis? by

UPDATE: September 2015 – Finally I got this figured out and I’m now completely cured. It turned out to be a muscle imbalance as I always suspected. I *THINK* it’s something that many be the true cause of many other hip OA sufferers symptoms. I’ve set up a website to spread awareness. You’ll find all the details there. I hope my info can help other people get the same results as me!!

Click here for all the details of what was wrong and how it was cured – hip osteoarthritis diagnosis ISN’T reliable so there’s hope for you!

Despite our ambitious plans for the summer we’ve done very little. Firstly the weather put paid to any outings, then both Paul and I (and Biggles for a short while) were out of action due to injury. In the past couple of months a new physiotherapist has been helping me fix my long standing hip problem (diagnosed several years back as osteoarthritis) and getting great results. Running and hiking up mountains wasn’t really compatible with that so, that’s my excuse for an absence of activity on the website all summer.

Things are now looking very good as far as my hip is concerned so I figured now is the time to start recording progress on the blog. If I get some ‘before’ videos, photos and details posted up now I can look forward to adding the ‘after’ shots some time in the not too distant future.

2005 – The Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

For most of my adult life my passion was Martial Arts and weight training. At age 42 (7 years ago – 2005) I felt better and fitter than I ever had at 20 or 30. I never had injuries and I always recovered quickly from hard training sessions. One day, after a particularly taxing training session I was cooling down (walking) on a treadmill at the gym and felt a tweak in my groin – very mild. I gave my leg a shake thinking it just a bit of cramping but it didn’t go away. I expected it to be fine by the morning but it just didn’t clear up. A few days later I noticed that I’d lost flexibility – I was no longer able to lift my knee across to my opposite shoulder. Karate required good flexibility and I stretched most days, so I’m 100% certain that this loss of flexibility came on within a day or two. Within a month I’d lost range of motion in all directions and didn’t have enough hip extension to stand up straight or walk without a limp. I never had any pain. Just muscle soreness….like overworked muscles.

There was a physiotherapist in my karate club and I got his advice fairly early on. He was a bit baffled, but initially didn’t think it serious. Eventually, when I’d failed to respond to anything he tried, he recommended I get an x-ray. The report came back saying “Degenerative Changes in Both Hips”. There was still some hope that the symptoms I was experiencing weren’t due to osteoarthritis. Apparently lots of people have degenerative changes in joints by aged 40 but without any symptoms. It could be something else causing the symptoms. Next port of call was a private hip specialist. According to him, a classic case of early OA and the type of thing he sees in footballers all the time – shredding of the joint caused by the sheering forces of kicking. He warned me that if I didn’t give up karate and power lifting that I’d need a total hip replacement within 5 – 10 years and would have a great deal of pain and disability long before that. He said it was possible that if I switched to swimming and cycling the symptoms wouldn’t worsen. He also warned me not to run as high impact activities would be very damaging.

2006 – I Started Running

The diagnosis scared me for a while and I was afraid to do anything. But thanks to lots of encouragement and positive thinking from friends I soon got over that and threw myself back into training. I was managing karate and weight training without much of a problem. The more extreme karate movements were impossible due to lost hip range of motion so I had to lower kicks and shorten stances. I wanted to make up for the decline in flexibility by making improvements in other areas and managed to get a bit of running coaching from an ex-UK runner that I’d got to know through karate. He came up with a running program that was right up my street. Very few long, slow plods and lots of hill sprints, track work and circuit training. Within three months I did my first 5k in 25 minutes and shortly after my first 10k in 54 minutes. I felt great – better than I’d felt in years and I got big improvements in karate from the extra fitness. Running felt good. But I was very aware of the fact that my hip still wasn’t working properly. I wasn’t able to drive through my right hip which slowed me down a lot. In retrospect, I think that I made the twist in my pelvis worse through running and perhaps even caused my glutes to shut down more as I learned to compensate with other muscles. Although I could run 10k, lift 120kg (no idea how I managed that without using my glutes!) and cope with strenuous martial arts training I still couldn’t tie my shoe laces or pick something up off the floor and now I couldn’t walk 200 metres to the post box without my back and hip cramping up – I walked with my pelvis at a 45 degree angle.

My last race before taking a break from running – the 2007 Glasgow 10k

Here’s the video of the finish line of the same race. I don’t know how noticeable the problem is to others. I can remember how it felt so it stands out a mile to me when I watch it. I was quite fit and strong back then and disguised it well, but it’s most noticeable if you watch how my shoulders move. I think it’ll be more apparent how bad things were when I post up an ‘after’ video of me running with all the problems fixed.

I’m in front of the woman with the kilt and the red hair

Late 2007 – Taking a Break While Working on a Fix

In September 2007 I decided to follow advice I’d been given by a physio to take a short break from running, karate and weight training while I worked on fixing the problem with my hip. I think at this point the cause was thought to be inactive right glutes, associated muscle imbalances and faulty movement patterns. It wasn’t thought that OA was responsible for all of the symptoms – if any. I bought a mountain bike and tried keeping up my fitness with swimming and cycling. I wasn’t good enough at swimming to get a good workout and my centre of gravity was all over the place (due to the twisting and tilting in my pelvis) and I kept wobbling off the bike when I put any effort into it.

We got our first Beagle, Beanie, around this time and Biggles came along 10 months later. I gradually got better at walking and started taking them on regular long hikes and hill walks (Hill walking was my main hobby prior to taking up karate). I did a bit of easy running with them too – nothing too regular and never too strenuous. I got them harnesses and a hands free belt and line and let them drag me along behind them (later discovered someone had labelled this canicross). Having two very fit, athletic little Beagles running out in front of me helped we to pretend I was as fit as them. They took a good few minutes off my 5k time which felt great. I entered fun runs with them two or three times a year and we just took it nice and easy (well, I took it easy – they didn’t!). We did some parkruns and CaniX races where there were plenty of unfit people so I never felt out of place. When I ran with others it was generally people that were less fit than me so I was always taking it very easy. So I was very active, but just not training hard the way I used to.

My short break turned into four years. I worked my way through a GP, a hip specialist, 4 physios, a chiropractor, an osteopath, a private palates teacher, a personal trainer (not to mention a couple of thousand pounds!) and spent hour upon hour reading and researching on the internet to try and figure out what was wrong. Most were convinced it could be fixed, but most eventually concluded it must be osteoarthritis when they failed to get any significant improvements.

2008 to 2011 – The Pitfalls of Cutting Back on Activity

I don’t think any of the experts dispute the value of being lean, strong, flexible and fit when it comes to coping with OA. Exercise is thought to be one of the best ways to manage OA. It’s thought (although I’m not sure it’s proven) that high impact or load bearing exercise should be avoided if you already have OA as this can wear the joints more quickly. Hence the standard advise to avoid high impact activities and take up sports like swimming and cycling. Well, this is all well and good if you’re an overweight couch potato or a 90 year old that’s barely got out of a chair in years. Swimming and cycling would burn more calories, build muscle and increase range of motion. That has to help your joints.

But when you’ve spent years (many of those years when you were young and had mother nature on your side) doing sports that required (and built) strength and flexibility and burnt calories like a furnace then switching to swimming and cycling – sports that you have no competency in – is only a small step up from giving up exercise all together. You very quickly loose fitness, muscle mass, strength and flexibility. It’s also very hard not to pile on pounds when you’re used to eating enough to fuel high levels of activity.

It was only a matter of a few months before I was a fat, unfit, middle aged lump of lard with a stiff hip and a limp. At my heaviest I was 82kg and when you consider that I’d also lost a lot of muscle mass I was carrying a lot of excess fat (previously I’d been 65kg with a fair bit of muscle). Over the years I’d say that the range of motion in my hip improved a little. Also, my pelvis leveled out a little and I managed (with difficulty) to build up a tiny bit of strength in my right glutes. But overall I felt 100 times worse because everything else had gone downhill. I had aches and pains everywhere and for years driving was a problem because I couldn’t turn my head to look behind me. My back was completely seized up down one side. All the strength and flexibility that I’d built up through years of karate was gone.

By 2010 I was fat and unfit. This is Beanie and I running in a CaniX race at Kielder at the end of 2010.

And here we are a couple of months earlier running in the East End 5k. This was the best I could do and I probably had to stop and walk several times.

If I could do things over I’d never go into retreat. Even temporarily. I think it’s so important to keep fighting the decline – aiming to get stronger, fitter, more flexible every day. It probably is necessary to cut out the activities that you suspect are causing the problem, but you need to replace them with an equivalent that will maintain, or better still, improve fitness levels and bio-mechanics. Every backward step is a step towards infirmity that you might never be able to reverse.

By late 2011 I resigned myself to the fact that no one could help me fix my hip. I wasn’t getting anywhere fast on my own. I decided that I’d rather be fit and lean even if it meant risking worn out joints and hip replacement. Better that than a fat, useless old codger with a dysfunctional hip – if I didn’t change things now where would I be in 5, 10 or 20 years time?

November 2011 – Getting Fit Again

I’d assumed that I would be back to full fitness in a few months if I stopped worrying about my hip and just threw myself into training the way I used to. But I hadn’t counted on how hard it would be. It’s one thing getting fit when everything works properly but with a wonky hip, misfiring muscles and everything twisted and out of alignment it’s impossible to do much without injuring something or stressing the wrong muscles. It was very difficult to hit the right balance – too much effort and I’d injure something; not enough and I failed to make progress.

I discovered that rough ground (both when running and hill walking) helped to balance out my pelvis a bit. The rougher the better – I always felt great for days after climbing Schehallion (a boulder strewn mountain). Anything that introduced instability seemed to help. I started to loose weight and feel a bit fitter, but no matter how hard I tried I still felt old and unfit. It wasn’t that my hip hurt – it didn’t. Just uncomfortable and awkward – I felt how old people look. I was so twisted and out of alignment that it was like trying to drive a car with square wheels. Everything was a huge effort and it was hard to build up any speed. Stretching just tightened me up more so there was little I could do to help restore range of motion. Strengthening exercises didn’t work because some of my muscles just wouldn’t work.

I joined a running club and started to make some progress. Now I was running with fit people without canine assistance and it really did make a difference as you simply couldn’t fool yourself into thinking you were doing OK. I entered a few cross country races which I really enjoyed despite coming last by a mile.

Speed and fitness improved and it wasn’t long before my weight was back down to below 65kg. But I was still slow managing at best a 27.30 5k pace – although with my little twin Beagle engines I went a fair bit faster!

I’d got my weight back down but strength, fitness and flexibility wasn’t anywhere near where it had been in 2007. Trying to improve things was just getting me injured.

Here’s a video clip of a hill run from around the same time. This is of me, Paul and the Beagles doing a 14k hill run. I guess we’re reasonably fit to be able to do the run, but we’re both pretty wonky. Paul’s problem is a seized lower back throwing everything else out of alignment. I don’t know – we just look and feel like a pair of lumbering old farts. We’re not ready to give in to that yet!

June 2012 – Grinding to another halt and more dire warnings

As distance and speed climbed a little I was plagued with minor injuries. It never hurt my hip (since getting back to running more seriously my hip was better than it had been in years), but it was the imbalances that my hip caused that resulted in calf problems, foot problems, tendonitis, left hamstring….it was finally a very painful shoulder impingement that forced me to stop running again.

A girl at my running club recommended a local (Ayr) physiotherapist that specialised in correcting twisted pelvis. I suspected that this was the route of my problem so I gave her a call in June 2012. She seemed confident that she could fix my problem in just one session, and confirmed this after examining me when I went to see her. She spent an hour working through a series of manipulations starting at my neck and working down. By the time she was done my hip was as stiff as ever and she abruptly changed her diagnosis to osteoarthritis and guaranteed me that it would get worse very quickly and that eventually I’d need a hip replacement. She told me that running and hill walking would speed up the degenerative process – that maybe I’d cope for another year before being forced to give up. She strongly recommended that I stop doing both and switch to cycling and swimming.


Well, I’d tried that for four years and it didn’t work – quite the opposite. So, I planned to keep going. Not just running without regard for the damage it was doing, but also to work on fixing everything that could be fixed and building up muscles to protect my joints. The only problem was my shoulders were hurting far too much to run and I wasn’t getting anywhere trying to fix them using exercises taken off the internet. I was rapidly loosing all the fitness that I’d worked hard to build up over recent months. So, I had to look for yet another physio to help me with that…

Next Installment : A New Physio and Getting My Life Back