BJJ and Arthritis – Part 1 of ?

Well, this is about BJJ and osteoarthritis, if we want to get specific.

To provide some context, let’s start back at (sort of) the beginning:

My right hip has been bothering me for years: it’s always come and gone, or something stupid would happen while training and I would hobble around a bit – the pain would go away, until it took longer and longer to go away, and then it stopped going away. I told myself that it had something to do with my right hip flexor, or it was a muscle strain, literally for years – just that nagging injury that just wouldn’t seem to quit.

I was still fairly active, but there was something that was going on, even when I didn’t realize it: I remember one of my bosses mentioning during a stand up meeting that I always looked like I was walking on a tight rope.

woman standing in front of mirror in gym, leaning on a piece of gym equipment, right foot placed in front of left in a line.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was standing that way so I could keep weight off of my hip – at the time it was just a thing I did.

Then at some point in early 2020 the pain went from annoying but manageable to substantial and started to cause me to limp. If we’re being totally honest, my training started to suffer and so did my performance at competitions: I was afraid of being in more pain, making whatever was going on worse for myself.

I’m not sure honestly what made me decide to see an orthopaedist – I think I wanted some assurance that it wasn’t something wrong with the joint, and really it was the muscle like I told myself it was all these years.

As they say: I took a calculated risk, but boy was I bad at math.

I finally went to an orthopedist, first thing they did was take an x ray of my hip, which was kind of a weird experience in and of itself, but that isn’t really worth going into. Anyway, they then left me in an exam room for me, with the image from the x-ray on a computer screen, so I examine it with the growing anxiety that this definitely was not a muscular thing, that something was quite wrong. The first doctor that came in was actually a physician’s assistant, who gave me a pitying look and opened with,

“So, you weren’t dealt the best hand in life when you were born…”

“…when it comes to your hips.”

They then explained that it was arthritis, and thought my hip was in this state due to a hip impingement – which for anyone who doesn’t feel like googling it, is a malformation of the hip joint: either the ball or the socket are malformed and creates additional friction in the joint, wearing down the cartilage. By this point the second doctor showed up, and when pressed for more information let me know that it was bad, but bad can be subjective based on the patient.

“I mean, I’ve seen people with hips like yours that can’t walk.” Cool. Coolcoolcoolcool…. exactly what everyone wants to hear. They also hypothesized that I was probably still so mobile because of my core strength, so yay jiu jitsu, and strength & conditioning training.

During that appointment they also estimated that I had about 5-10 years before I needed a new hip joint. At the time I let them know that I wanted to try to keep the original joint for as long as possible, and I decided at the time to get a steroid shot in my hip to relieve the pain. I managed to get the shot right before the pandemic shut everything down, so I was lucky in that regard. The shot worked for a few months, but I started to feel pain again about 3-4 months later, which grew progressively worse as time went on.

During this time I decided to go to a different orthopedist, and ended up going to one recommended by my primary physician.

The second orthopedist I went to also took an x-ray of my hip: I was again left in an exam room with an image of my hip. It was less of a shock this time, but it was also evident that my hip had gotten worse. The doctor came in, introduced himself, sat down, looked me in the eye and said “your hip is terrible”.

He then went on to say that I need to have surgery soon. My right leg had become shorter than my left, which has given me an uneven gate and is started to effect my back.

You know, just nonstop fun and excitement over here.

This one believes it could have been any number of things that happened to my hip, including possibly an injury to the cartilage that I didn’t notice when I was younger, possibly from jiu jitsu – which my guess would be that if that’s the case, there’s a 98% chance it’s from jiu jitsu.

One nice thing was the doctor also explained it was going to be a 45 minute procedure, and that I could be up and about as early as the next day. he then went on to show me videos and photos of people who were up and walking as early as 5 to 6 hours after their surgery. So, now I have surgery scheduled for the end of August.

Admittedly, I still had a few days where I sort of had to go through the stages of grief over the whole thing essentially, but I think I’m basically at the point of acceptance, and I’m trying to focus on the things that I should be able to do after this replacement.

Will I compete as much as I did before? I’m truly not sure: I know there’s at least one (older) guy who competes with a hip replacement, but right now I really want to focus on my day to day before thinking about whether or not I can get back into competition.

I’m not writing this for sympathy from anyone, but for the same reason that I ever write on this blog: if I’m going through it, there’s at least ONE other person in the world who is going through the same thing. The circumstances may be a little different, but if I can offer the assurance that there’s another person going through this, that they aren’t alone, that you can get through it, then I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do.

Also, moral of the story: if something is bothering you for longer than a couple of months, please get it checked out. Unfortunately due to several factors I put off seeing someone for this some time, but if I had gone to a doctor earlier there may have been a chance that I could have done some alternative treatments and extended the life of the joint.

I’ll try to post on instagram about my progress, and maybe I’ll even get my act together and write another blog post about my progress.

That’s all for now: have a great day, and don’t ignore nagging injuries.

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