This time last year I had the post-HOKA Highland Fling running blues. The Fling is a 53-mile monster on the West Highland Way and like any long-distance run, it required training – mainly slow, long runs of upwards of marathon distance in a single session. These took time, dedication, and above all, their toll on the legs, feet and knees.
Prior to the event towards the end of March, upon my return from a skiing trip to the Alps, my knees began to bother me. 30 mile runs turned into 20, which turned into 16 and then any small run was an issue, especially descending. My initial reaction was that ‘all the training’ was taking its toll. The truth of the matter, when I eventually saw the surgeon after dragging myself round the Fling was much more worrying. My knees had been misaligned since I stopped growing – not ideal but hardly a rarity, but what I wasn’t expecting were the words: Early-onset arthritis. Not at 43. No sir. From the pictures here you can probably see the lack of gaps between femur and patella, and the bony spurs developing where they shouldn’t. Calcification they call it. I was instantly depressed.
Surgery was an option, but it didn’t offer any guarantees and hinted at a long recovery time. I also suffer from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertrophic_scar, so I avoid surgery wherever possible.
He gave me another option, well actually 5 other options: pineapple, turmeric, supplements, stretching and cycling. Pineapple you say? Turmeric you say? Supplements you say? Well, why not, I said.
I’d kind of taken or left pineapple up until then, but as soon as I researched it and found that it is rich in the protein-digesting enzyme bromelain, making it a natural anti-inflammatory agent helpful in reducing swelling, bruising and pain in musculoskeletal injuries, as well as arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis, well, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
And the pineapple doesn’t have to be eaten fresh either, which is just as well, given the time and inconvenience of preparing it. Juiced, canned or frozen are all as good – and now my morning ritual is a glass as soon as I get up with two max-strength supplement tablets, which I’ll come on to later.
The other recommended foodstuff was turmeric, which as any curry-lover will know is the yellow spice found in both in mustard and curry. Its active ingredient is Curcumin. Turmeric has been long used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent. Today, in a large number of scientific studies, mainly in the US, turmeric is being investigated for these medicinal properties, particularly its ability to reduce inflammation in patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease. The problem is, of course, that you have to get used to putting turmeric in your food when it’s not a natural bedfellow for many foods. Thus far I had eaten it in curries, but little else, but that use is growing. In fact, because I’m a cheapskate, I’ve been adding a little turmeric to my juice in the morning, rather than investing in this Turmeric Pineapple Elixir product from the US:
Ah, but what about those pesky supplements? Well, those of you that take, or have heard of, both Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphate may be aware of their use in joint recovery. Glucosamine is readily produced in the human body and is necessary for the production of joint cartilage. As we age, producing enough glucosamine becomes more difficult and cartilage begins to detiorate causing, amongst other things, painful joints. When arthritis is present, the supply of glucosamine is insufficient, so the addition of glucosamine chondroitin in supplement form can aid in stimulating cartilage repair. Makes sense right?
But I’m a cynic, especially when these things cost good money that I don’t have. However the results were fairly instant and further research gave me some heart:
A study involved a group of Navy SEALS, and was published in a military medical journal in 2006. The SEALS were younger (average age: 43) and much more active than your typical person with knee osteoarthritis, so they came closer to mimicking the stresses that runners face. Indeed, the study authors noted: “Osteoarthritis is not unexpected in this occupational setting, given the history of high levels of activity and trauma.”
The SEALS all suffered from knee osteoarthritis before beginning the double-blind, randomised, 16-week study. Half of them took a supplement containing glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin sulfate, and manganese ascorbate; the other half took a placebo. “The relief of knee discomfort was the most important finding of this study,” the researchers concluded. “Knee osteoarthritis symptoms were relieved” for the SEALS who took the supplements, an assessment reached both by questioning the patients and by examining their knees.
So there you go, if it’s good enough for those fellows then it’s good enough for me. In summary, I think a combination of all of the above has helped me get back into some kind of running shape, after the pitiful state I was in last Spring, and I mustn’t underestimate the impact that plenty of cycling has had, so more of the same for now. Managing distance, frequency and terrain have also been the secret of staying fairly mobile. The rougher challenges can come when I have a bit more sustained time without my kneecaps screaming at me.
In the meantime, a nice Korma anyone?