Gayle Wells
  • Location Hampshire
  • Type of Arthritis Osteoarthritis

My first symptoms felt like growing pains, and my right knee would often dislocate or lock. I was a very active teenager. I played football to a decent level. I was playing in university trials and my knee did it again. It was examined by a surgeon, who said I had the equivalent of an old woman’s knee.

I was told I would probably need a partial knee replacement early in life, around my 40s or 50s. I’d just started training to be a nurse. It was really unexpected – when you think of arthritis, you think of old people. The doctors said there’s not much they could do. They told me to stop sport and give up lots of things. For six or seven years, I did nothing. I gave up sport and everything. I was told running around will make everything worse. I really enjoyed sport, so when I gave it up I gave up hope a bit too.

Now I’m exercising again and I have a very supportive surgeon. He’s a strong advocate of exercise. I’m a keen cyclist and I take part in bike races. I go to the gym. I think it’s really important for your arthritis and mental wellbeing. I’ve had my partial knee replacement now and once you’ve got metal in your body, you can’t turn the clock back.

I had the operation before I had children. I now have two children, aged five and two. Since I had the operation, my knee doesn’t lock anymore. Pregnancy with arthritis is difficult; it’s not something doctors come across, as they’re used to older people with arthritis. I had a very good consultant. I was on strong painkillers, but now I don’t take any. During pregnancy, I had an accident and broke three bones in my back. It never healed quite right.

My husband has been so supportive. My good friends and parents have been really helpful.  They’re key to pulling you through, especially when you have bad days. When you feel sore, you think it’s never going to go away, because there’s no cure.

Public awareness of arthritis isn’t there. Having a support network is really important. There is a local support group, but with work it’s difficult. There aren’t as many support groups compared to other conditions. I think self-help is really important - even small little things, like walking groups.

I’m on my feet all day at work, and that can be challenging, but I have supportive work colleagues. I have had time off, because of the surgeries.

I did things especially after the knee operation that I thought I’d never do - obstacle races, six hours on a bike. Previously, I’d felt there was no hope. 

If you’ve just been diagnosed with arthritis, I’d say don’t lose hope. Try not to sink into yourself, as there are still things you can do. It’s about pacing yourself. It’s like a marathon: you’ll never do it straight away; you need to take tiny steps. It might take different things to inspire you, but it’ll work out.

Having arthritis has given me different things to do. I’ve always been mad into football, and I still enjoy watching it, but would never have seen myself as a cyclist. As things were getting worse, I made the decision to have surgery.

It’s not going to beat me - there are people worse off. I’m really lucky to have brilliant friends, family and a supportive gym. When I earn a bit extra, I book a personal training session at the gym. They’re fantastic, know about my arthritis, and how to push and not to push. It’s helped me to lose weight, which is a massive factor when you have arthritis. The less weight on the joints, the better. It can be the hardest thing. It’s a vicious cycle to get out of; you can’t move, but then need to lose weight.

At my gym, there are lots of people with challenges and disabilities. There’s support for you no matter what health problems you have. Overall, I think there’s not enough support for people with arthritis and similar chronic conditions.

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