Thursday, November 30, 2006


I have arthritis. I had no idea I have arthritis. My joints don't hurt. It's my shins that do, and that's what I brought up with my doctor when I had my physical.

Whenever I ride my exercise bike, and sometimes just for the heck of it, my shins start hurting like I have shin splints. But shin splints is primarily a pain caused by high-impact exercise, and an exercise bike is as low-impact as you can get this side of swimming.

When I was in my early twenties, I was a runner. I wasn't very fast, because God didn't build me for speed. He built me for endurance, and I endured. I joined a running group in Spokane whose purpose was training for the 7+ mile Bloomsday race. The first year, I ran it with a 14-minute per mile pace. The second year I was closer to a 10-minute pace, which was as good as I ever got.

During that second year, our running group ran a 10-mile race, and my knees hurt for a week afterward. When the knee pain happened again after 8 miles, I went to the doctor, who diagnosed chondromalasia patella, or "your knees hurt from the inside out." I got physical therapy, and it was the physical therapist who told me that chondromalasia usually occurs when the angle of the tendon that runs down the thigh, relative to the one that runs down the shin, isn't a straight line. In layman's terms, that means that people with narrow hips and legs that go straight up and down don't get chondromalasia patella. People with wide hip bones (making the thigh bone angled, not perpendicular to the ground) are more prone to having knee problems.

I come from a long line of pear shapes on my mom's side of the family. Both her parents were pear shapes, one of them from Hungarian peasants and the other from Polish peasants. Since I take after her side of the family, my knees were doomed.

Even with therapy, the knees kept hurting. And they hurt after less and less distance. When I couldn't even run three miles anymore, I quit running. I was twenty-four. I haven't done high-impact exercise since then. Instead, I did Bicycling. Walking. Boogie-boarding. Swimming (that gave me bursitis, but that's another story).

So my doctor sent me for x-rays to check for a hairline fracture in my shins, which could explain the pain. The x-rays didn't show any problems, so they sent me for a bone scan, and I had that a couple days ago. I got to ride the thrill-ride of the remote-controlled bed into the Nuclear Medical Camera, where they took pictures of my radioactive bones (but they left the lights on, so I couldn't see if I glowed in the dark or not). Set 1: Hips and thighs. Set 2: Centered on the knees. Set 3: Ankles and shins.

My doctor's office called today and said I have mild arthritis in my hips, knees, and ankles. But my shins look fine. I definitely don't have shin splints. Oh, good. So we still don't know why my shins hurt. Must be a muscle thing.

But it's a whole sea change for me. I looked up "arthritis" in google and finally ended up at the CDC's webpage on the disease. I've never looked up this disease with myself in mind. I don't think I've looked it up for anyone else, either.

The good news is that they have prevention and self-help tips:

Develop Your Skills - I think this is for people already in pain.
Be Active - Thirty minutes, three days a week.
Watch Your Weight - Lose 11 pounds (that's what they say, but they don't say from what weight).
See Your Doctor - That's what got me here in the first place.
Protect Your Joints - Don't take up anything dangerous.

If I do these things, I suppose I'll have a good chance of keeping the pain in my shins as the worst of my worries. Not too shabby.


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lauren said...

I have had shin pain for as long as I can remember. They hurt from running to walking and even sitting all day. I have had x-rays, an MRI, and specially made orthotics put in my shoes. Nothing has worked or came up in my tests. I just recently looked up arthritis because I was looking for any answer. My knees feel achy sometimes but I just recently noticed it. I have to reposition myself more often now to stay comfortable. I was wondering if anyone had insight on what it could be. I was thinking maybe I could have some type of arthritis that is causing shin pain. I don't know though because I'm only 21, can you have arthritis when your that young? Just like you the doctors can't find anything wrong with my shins. My shins hyperextend a little bit so maybe that has to do with something like you wrote not being all aligned. Well if there is any advice or thoughts comment back, thanks