Only as Strong as My Weakest Joint
I’m gripping the walker tightly, listening to my heartbeat thumping. My thoughts are racing, but I grab onto one: “I will make it down this hallway.” The only problem is that my right ankle is screaming so loudly I can’t feel the soreness in my muscles, my overall fatigue and weakness. It is then I remember that I’m only as strong as my weakest joint.
As long as I can remember I sympathized with the phrase “only as strong as the weakest link” because it was always one joint in particular that was holding me back. When I was in my early teens the culprit was my right hip. The pain and terrible health of the joint kept me up at night and stunted my ability to walk.
After my hip replacements, it was my left knee. After my knee replacements, I lose track. It’s always something, right? One day one joint is the worst, sometimes another takes its place like a painful wheel of misfortune.
Since my left knee revision two years ago, my right ankle has been the top instigator. When I began my rehab I was fighting against muscle weakness, not only in my left leg but throughout my body. I was exhausted by everything and it took months to get some energy back.
Then I started walking with my walker and the ankle awoke in a fit of heated anger. Why are you asking me to bear so much wait and to take the brunt of your heavy steps? With the left side so weak, the right had to take on more.
Gradually I have gotten much stronger. In some ways, I am stronger and healthier than before the surgeries. But my left quadriceps muscle still lags the right. I can’t bear weight as much on the left and don’t have the strength that I still want (and have not given up on).
What frustrates me is that my training and recovery has to be negotiated around my right ankle. I can’t exhaust myself on walking practice as I’d like to because my ankle gives out before my legs do. On one hand, this is a huge improvement. But otherwise it is a struggle to work my leg muscles without aggravating or tapping out this particular joint.
I’m tackling this problem in a few ways. First, my daily exercise routine starts in the morning with exercises done while lying down, such as leg lifts and bends. On my strong leg I use a weight and have worked up to five pounds. These exercises get my joints warmed up without aggravating my ankle.
In the evening I will do walking or practicing a step. With these exercises I do have to watch the ankle and can only do as much as it allows. If my muscles need more work, I can do more lying down or without weight-bearing.
The best solution I have found for good exercise without aggravating my right ankle is going in the pool. This I love! The water supports my joints as I do jumping, stretching, kicking, walking and other repetitions. So far, no matter how much I do my ankle is good and pain free while I challenge my muscles and get a good workout. I’m able to do 20 minutes of solid exercise before I exhaust myself and take a break with a dip in the whirlpool.
I learned that try as I might, I cannot defeat my weakest joint. It will always be there in some form and must be respected. If I push it too far, I risk serious injury and more issues like another recovery or needing intervention like surgery. While my aggravating joint frustrates me, I have to respect its limits in order to protect the rest of my body. However, I can hope that my work strengthening other muscles will help support my worst joints over time.
Right now, what RA tips would most be helpful for you?