Arthritis: A dirty little secret of sports medicine?

Notice the fuzziness around the bone inside the circle. That's the arthritis showing up in an X-ray.

Arthritis, simply defined, is the inflammation of one or more joints. But it’s actually an umbrella term, according to arthritis.org, used to describe a group of 100-plus medical conditions.

Studies say that running is good for you, and can even prevent osteoarthritis.That’s apparently because the ligaments that hold joints together are strengthened during exercise, thereby helping your joints stay healthier longer.

Well that’s great and all. But what about when an injury interrupts all that wonderful goodness?

Let’s use me as an example. Because, well, it turns out I have arthritis in my right foot.

You read that right. I’m 32. And I have arthritis in my (expletive) (expletive) (big expletive) foot.

I’ve had a total of three stress fractures in my right foot over the years, one of which was in my interior sesamoid.

So you can imagine my worry when my foot continued to ache for several months. The discomfort was in the same vicinity of my previous stress fracture and I was worried I had another one. But in this instance of pain, though, it wasn’t constant and it was definitely worse after wearing heels. So I actually thought it was my bunion… and I pushed off seeing my doctor, because I wasn’t ready to be told it was time for my bunion to be removed (it’s a very painful surgery and recovery, I’m told).

When I finally did get in to see my doctor in mid-January, he took an image of my foot. And while I waited in the observation room, waiting for the results, my mind wandered into all sorts of dark injury territory.

Then my doctor came in with what I thought was good news — I didn’t have a bunion issue and I didn’t have another stress fracture! But, as he went over my X-ray (above) with me, he pointed out that my interior sesamoid is surrounded by fuzziness, while the exterior one is very clearly defined.

“What does that mean?” I asked, not really too worried at this point.

“You have arthritis,” he said.

Um, okkaaayyyyy.

I was still feeling pretty good that I didn’t have another fracture. But that wasn’t to last long.

I asked him how on Earth that was possible, and he told me that it’s a RESULT FROM MY PREVIOUS STRESS FRACTURE.┬áThat’s right, my stress fracture harmed my joint. And therefore allowed arthritis to creep in.

This is just not something that people tell you. I was shocked.

And I feel like if I had known, then maybe I would have been more careful about my training. (That’s a big maybe, I mean there’s a reason I have this website in the first place, but I digress.)

I hope this revelation helps those of you who might otherwise over train. Don’t do it. You could get a stress fracture. And then you could get arthritis.

There are treatments, but they’re not FDA-approved. My doctor told me about Supartz, an injection for knee arthritis (which is approved for that specific purpose) that we could do on my foot. But I’m not thrilled about putting something in my body that wasn’t approved for that purpose.

So instead, I’m taking glucosamine supplements; they have really helped ease my discomfort. So maybe I’ll be able to control my pain until there’s an FDA-approved foot arthritis treatment.

I can run without pain. And I can now again wear heels to important work meetings without wanting to chop my foot right off. (I still slip back into flats after, though.)

Any other runners/endurance athletes have arthritis? How does it affect you and how do you control it?

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2 Comments

Filed under Arthritis, Injuries, Stress fracture

2 responses to “Arthritis: A dirty little secret of sports medicine?

  1. Tal

    Sorry to hear the news! Sucks to have another setback! The good thing about chronic injuries like this one (or tendonitis) is that it’s about pain management, as opposed to strict healing, so you don’t have to stop exercising altogether. Glad the glucosamine is helping and hope you continue to find good options!