Testimonial written by: Ryan Rankin
In college, I played basketball and was always spraining my ankle, badly, and never taking the time for the proper rehab and therapy. My trainers always said I was going to get osteoarthritis in my ankle. But at 22 I couldn’t comprehend the idea of ankle arthritis or getting older. I just assumed older meant in my 50s or 60s and laughed it off.
In this case, older meant 28.
Up until then I lived an active lifestyle. Basketball, backpacking, maybe some golf, and in general, just hanging out with friends. But the OA started to limit what I could do, and before I knew it, I needed a walking boot just to get around relatively pain free.
After my first ankle surgery in 2008, I had to come to grips that I was a young adult with some pretty serious ankle OA and I faced a long, and sometimes scary, road, but I wasn’t going to let that hold me down. I made it a point to try and live an active life, albeit in moderation. To ensure I stayed active, I needed to take action and find treatments that helped me thrive while living with OA.
Now after a second ankle surgery in 2014, I’m still making sure I’m doing what I can to remain active. A big contributor to helping me remain active was including the paleo diet as one of my treatments. Sure, there are A TON of other diets out there, some even specifically for osteoarthritis. But they were not want I wanted, or needed, in a diet. I chose to follow the paleo diet for specific reasons, and the results have been well worth it.
Ease of Implementation
I’m an OK cook. I don’t have a “go-to dish” or cook up a multi-course meal, but I can do a pretty good bacon wrapped salmon or slow-cooked pork roast . Even with my limited cooking skills I was able to transition easily from my old eating plan to cooking paleo meals with foods that were beneficial for my OA. Early on, when I was first learning how to take control of my OA, it was important for me to get a few easy wins under my belt and being able to check off food and eating was a big relief.
Comfort and Familiarity
While researching possible treatments, it felt like everyone who had osteoarthritis recommended a treatment. The problem was that most of them didn’t work for me. Learning to navigate all the possible treatments and keeping track of what worked and what didn’t was equally confusing and frustrating. While trying to figure it all out, there were a handful of workout programs, ankle exercises and the paleo diet that I came to rely on. Those were the treatments that I could confidently look at to know that I was on the right path, no matter how bad of a day my OA was causing me to have. Being able to draw from those few core treatments provided a lot of comfort and familiarity while navigating all the unknowns and failures of trying so many different treatments.
Two Benefits from One Treatment
Once I got into the flow and designed a meal plan with the right foods, Paleo allowed me to kill two birds with one stone. Not only was I able to lose weight, but I knew before even starting the paleo diet that many of the foods were beneficial to osteoarthritis. More healthy fats and fish, less dairy and pasta…there are a lot of recipes that include anti-inflammatory foods and just about all those that aggravate OA are excluded.
Weight loss was also very important for me. Having osteoarthritis is bad enough, but getting it in the ankle can be really rough sometimes. I needed to drop 10-15 pounds, and that would mean I would be putting much less pressure on my ankle any time I walked around. That was good not only for the immediate relief, but long term health as well.
Doorway to Other Treatments
Following the paleo diet also provided a path to new treatments I’m pretty sure I would not have come across as quickly, or at all in some cases. I’m always looking for new exercises to keep my physical therapy from becoming too boring and repetitious. Following links in posts and reading articles about people and exercises allowed me to incorporate new exercises that focused on more than just my ankle, but knees and hips, that help keep my routines feeling fresh. Recently, I’ve started to read about meditation. This is something I’m not sure I would have found or even pursued without seeing it in one of the paleo blogs I read. I’m still unsure about how meditation might help my ankle OA, but I’m open to giving it a go and it if works – great!
My Next Steps
Like I mentioned, I have a few key treatments I can rely on and moving forward I don’t expect those to change much. Sure, some exercises can come and go. I can change-up workouts every few months. Hopefully my medical options get better. But replacing a diet that provides so many positive benefits with minimal little effort is going to be hard to do.
I plan on remaining as active as possible for as long as I can. I hope to hike part of the John Muir Trail later this year. It’ll be a 190 mile trip spread over 18 days. It’s a lot to ask given my OA, but it’s great being in the position to prepare for such a trip. Whether I finish all or just half of it, it’s going to be a great time! And this trip is long overdue. I was supposed to hike the trail in 2014 but instead I had my second ankle surgery. So it’s a long time coming.
To prepare, my exercises and workouts are geared toward getting in hiking shape and the paleo diet a big component of that preparation. I also plan on preparing paleo friendly meals to eat while out on the trail.
Obviously, the paleo diet has become a big part of my life. It’s become more than a treatment at this point. I still have a lot of learning to do and I’m always on the look out to try something new to see if it will work so I can add it to my repertoire. I know there are a lot of treatments I’ll cycle through in the future, some may work and some will not. But it’s good to know that I can fall back on a few that work, paleo being one of them.
Ryan lives in San Francisco and is a former basketball player and sometimes backpacker. He recently started writing about what it’s like to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis at young age and still try to maintain an active lifestyle at From Athletics to Arthritis (www.fromathleticstoarthritis.com).