Neil Henson writes about his battle with arthritis in his forties and his road to recovery following a hip replacement.
Arthritis came as an unwelcome intruder in my life. A persistent presence that continuously took from me like a selfish child. I wanted to strangle it. I wanted to strangle it for every game of football I couldn't play with my daughter, for every time I struggled to dress myself, for every night that I struggled to sleep, for every time I was short tempered with those that didn't deserve it.
Good luck with your recovery Neil. What was the gap between your op and the climb?
> Good luck with your recovery Neil. What was the gap between your op and the climb?
Many thanks. My operation was on 21st June 2022 (I wrongly stated July in the article) and I climbed Lighthouse Arete on 17th September 2022, so just under 3 months.
I am a full-time mountain leader, having left 'conventional' work 9yrs ago after a number of redundancies. My bodyclock is somewhat further on at 58, but I felt a good bit younger until a year ago.
Unfortunately I now find myself in the same situation as you, albeit a little earlier in the process. The dull, irritating pain has just been getting worse month after month for a year now, and finally I went to the docs in November.
I have arthritis in both hips, but my right is worse, and though not ready for the op yet, it's just a matter of time.
As you state in your article a few times, it's the losing of one's youth, health and lifestyle that hurts more than the pain, (and in my case livelihood). I know others have it worse, so I am resolved to do as much as I can before the inevitable.
It's great to see you getting out, and I would love to know if you manage to get back running! I desperately don't want to lose my big mountain days
Best of luck fella, keep on keeping on......
Really sorry to hear your diagnosis Johnny - I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I haven't got back to running yet, but expect to be able to in the next few months, albeit probably shorter distances than before.
> Really sorry to hear your diagnosis Johnny - I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I haven't got back to running yet, but expect to be able to in the next few months, albeit probably shorter distances than before.
As I said, best of luck. We'll get there eh?
Nice article Neil, thanks. What device did you get fitted? I went for a metal/metal resurfacing on my left hip because that seemed the only one that could stand running and climbing, being designed for the purpose and having some high profile successes (including Andy Murray eventually) but my right hip is ceramic/ceramic.
Both types are working well, 8 years and 5.5 years respectively, and for both I was jogging and indoor climbing within 3 months. I do parkrun most Saturdays and have trotted round the Skyline several times. Just started winning V70 category half-marathons on the road...
You will get back to normal, just be patient and careful!
Thanks Pete. That sounds like a great recovery. I have a metal ball and ceramic socket insert. I don't believe the NHS do resurfacing anymore. I think there were some cases that weren't quite as successful as yours or Andy Murray's. Happy to be corrected though by someone with more medical knowledge.
Article sounds (painfully) familiar. I'm hoping to get my left hip done later this year. My consultation did include a brief discussion about resurfacing and I think it can happen on the NHS or at least paid for by the NHS in a private hospital (which is how mine will go).
I could have been referred on for a conversation with a surgeon who does them in Chesterfield (consultation was in Sheffield).
Cheers - good to read about you being back on the rock so quickly after the operation. Thanks for the article.
I'm finding it's quite common for climbers to have their hips done. I had my left one done about a year and a half ago. The implant is a ceramic ball in plastic insert, a Spanish social security classic. It seems quite sturdy. The other day on a steep route I felt tempted to use a drop knee with my knee chest level and decided against it, not worth the risk I thought. With the move unresolved, I thought it best to enjoy the moment and come to terms with the fact that we have some limitations. After all, limitations naturally seem to be piling on as time progresses, just enjoy the trip.
Interesting to see the similarties to my progression with hip artheritis (I ran the Edale skyline a few years ago and realised there was a real problem developing). I had a total hip replacement in early September (2022), was back tentatively climbing after 6 weeks, I'm now climbing and bouldering without any mental or physical constraint. Really amazing considering the state I was in. Running has taken longer to get back and felt impossible until maybe a few weeks ago. Done 3 short runs last week (a few miles each) with no ill effects that I can tell. Feel extremely grateful!
Sounds like a great recovery. I've recently started bouldering again (just indoors at the moment), but really nervous of falling off at present with the new hip, which is holding me back somewhat. I have managed to get back to my PB grade wise, but frequently backing off easier stuff if a move feels a bit precarious. Keen to hear how your bouldering experience progressed post op. Did you have similar anxieties with falling off at first?
Very interesting to read the article. I went through the same over six years ago and can remember not being able to put socks on, disrupted sleep and asking how far my wife was going to walk when she was taking the dog out and so on. All very grim. I had a metal and ceramic THR on one side and after two or three weeks when the post surgery discomfort had gone I was walking further than I had done for several years - there was a massive jump in the steps/distance/flights showing on the health tracker on my phone. The surgeon said that after three months I could go back to do whatever activities and exercise I wanted and not worry about the hip. I was cautious at first - I remember having to jump off at the climbing wall in those early attempts to get back to things and trying to land on one leg, causing a muscular injury in my 'good' leg! Nowadays I never even think about the hip when I am climbing, skiing, walking or whatever (I have given up any regular running because of knee pain). I hope your recovery continues and that like me you will read an article in six years time to remind you that you have a bit of metal and ceramic inside you!
Thanks Brampton. Pleased to hear others tales of getting back into climbing and not worrying about falling off. Fear of falling on the new hip is holding me back on bouldering at the moment, but hopefully it is something that I can work through. I know that the NHS medical professionals I spoke to were a lot keener on me doing roped climbing than bouldering.
Yes, was very anxious about it! I started of by literally just stepping off of traverses (indoors), then making a move up and jumping off, then two moves etc It was a matter of building mental confidence and just being happy with small progress week by week. I ended up bouldering at the newstones almost by mistake/subconciously as its a usual haunt. Had a sort of blink twice moment of 'wow, I'm back out bouldering'. I'm still a bit careful as want to look after it as much as I can but have fallen off in anger from a reasonable height onto the mat. I'd say that I'm now not conciously aware of the joint in general but still get a bit anxious when trying to do a precarious move on a slab with a bit of height.
It helped that my surgeon had directly given me the green light and said I couldn't damage the joint. He was very clear that opening my hips up and raising knees etc was fine. Small risk of dislocation raising knee and moving across body upto week 12 post-op but after that was very bullish about cracking on. Was pretty clear that I wasn't to put any restrictions on my activities.
Thanks for writing the article and hope your recovery is speedy as well!
Great thanks. Sounds like I am in the early stages of that mental confidence journey. I've jumped off from a couple of feet so far. Feel like I am heading in the right direction with it, but I guess it will take time and probably the odd unexpected fall. I don't think I got the same level of reassurance as you though. They didn't seem too concerned about dislocation or any restrictions on particular climbing moves. Their main concern seemed to be the possibility of parts working loose with higher impact falls, although I'm not entirely convinced that indoor bouldering falls are particularly high impact. Outdoors maybe so (especially if you miss the mat!) Will continue to try and build that confidence back and adopt caution where required. Thanks for taking the time to reply, it's been really helpful.
Thanks for a great article which really captures the feelings I still get when I head out on a climb 18 months after getting a metal hip (at the same age you did!). Also nice to see some comments from people further down the road of recovery. I’m still wary of falling but slowly rebuilding confidence. The good news is they even now I still feel improvement, and the joint is always better after a day of exercise than a day of sitting in the office!
My wife had a double hip replacement in November, at the age of 48. Tending to her over the first six weeks gave us both a shock as to what 'old age' might look like.... Now, nine weeks into recovery she's managing 5 mile walks, three times a week... might even manage an easy climb or two before winter loses its grip. To paraphrase Schopenhauer, all we have is our body, our health. The glimpse of it disappearing scared us both.Good luck with your recovery.
Yeah, I know what you mean about getting that early glimpse of old age. Great to hear of your wife's recovery. Really pleased with how mine is going too. All the best.
Thanks for sharing, great article. It really resonates - the fear, the frustration, the loss of youthful mobility. I'm 42 and have recently been diagnosed with chronic knee osteoarthritis all relating back to an acl injury 20 yrs ago. It was quite a shock, I went to a specialist after an MRI expecting to be told I needed an arthroscopy to clear up my knee only to leave the devastating diagnosis described above. I also cried on the way home. I'm scheduled for acl reconstruction with microfractures and a general tidy up on 10th Feb. 6-9 month rehab from that then see where we're at. In time I'll most likely need an osteotomy then ultimately knee replacement. I'd been really getting into long distance running after many years of climbing, the long distance running isn't likely to be on the cards again which is pretty gutting. But I'll try to put my focus into the adventures I will be able to have again. Reading about the climb in this article and some the comments is good food for thought. See you on the other side!
Really sorry to hear that. Wishing you all the best. I am still evaluating what to do myself running wise. My right hip is also quite badly worn and I'm keen to prolong its life for as long as possible, which obviously doesn't fit very well with running longer distances. Indeed it is gutting to have to stop or curtail one of your main hobbies.
Don't despair HimTggins, well, not completely; you can climb after knee replacement. I know; I've had both done. But long distance running will probably becone a long distance memory unless someone else who knows more about it can correct me?
Greatly appreciated your reflections and perspective, and would like to offer encouragement to those who ponder a prosthesis. In my case, after pain for some 4 months (thought it was soft tissue damage), X rays sealed the decision and left hip was replaced at 63 yrs. Hip immediately pain-free, op. pain gone after a month, the best advice was to do the physio's exercises, use lightweight walking poles (especially downhill), get back into tope-rope/seconding routes after 4 months and avoid leading for a year (it felt good after 9 months). While I'm avoiding running (maybe this is more psychological), am appreciating climbing and being out there all the more. The op had to happen and I'm so glad it did.
Felt for you when I read this Neil. I was in absolute bits with my right hip. No doubt from years of hard physical exercise-Ex RAF Physical Training Instructor-I researched hip resurfacing and put a 'feeler' out to see if anyone else had it done in the climbing community. John Alcock a local Bristol based journalist kindly contacted me and said he had his done it and it turned things around for him. John climbs in the very high e-grades ( E5 first ascent in the Avon Gorge) so that gave me the impetus to 'go for it.' I climb at a very modest grade but it's an important part of my life. My op was a complete success I'm 65 now but had it done when was 53. Ronan Treacy did mine; he was the co-developer of the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing op. He's done about 5,000 by the time he operated on yours truly. My other hips is a little bit temperamental at times but I'd have no hesitation in 'getting that sorted' too. The technology is so much better nowadays so that is a bonus. I believe John has had his other hip done but as a replacement on the second as opposed to a resurfacing and I recently saw him climbing and he was - as the say- 'nailing it'.
My advice to anyone having a resurfacing or a replacement done is research it to the nth degree and find a surgeon who empathises with your desire to continue climbing and has done loads of these operations. Also become fanatical about your post-op rehab. I notice your were aspiring to return to running was the something your surgeon said was feasible?
Thanks Pilates. Really pleased to hear how successful your op was. The medical staff I spoke to didn't seem too concerned about the running, although did suggest I run shorter distances than before. They were more concerned about bouldering and potential damage to the prosthesis from repeated falls. I am back indoor bouldering now and really enjoying it, but being cautious with it. I don't feel ready to return to running yet, but don't miss it too much at this time of year. Will probably feel differently about it when the spring comes. Mixed feelings about returning to running though as my right hip is quite badly worn and I'm keen to preserve its remaining life as long as possible.
My surgeon seemed less concerned about returning to higher impact sports than my physio did.
I certainly wouldn't limit your ambitions after new hips though there's always an element of luck. Here's my very personal experience:
Before my first hip op 17 years years ago (a metal-on-metal resurfacing) I was in constant pain and couldn't walk more than 250 yards without sticks. I had less than 8 per cent rotation in my right hip but was still dragging myself up E3s one legged. The operation changed my life. Since then (and a full ceramic replacement of my left hip 11 years ago), I have led E6, WI5, 7c (my hardest sport grade so far). I have also walked the Welsh 3000s in a day, pulled sleds up mountains in Alaska and lots of off-piste skiing and touring. I run, but only cross country hill runs (of an hour or so). I say this not to boast but to encourage arthritis sufferers to not be frightened that surgery will end their adventures.
My post-op limitations are a lack of suppleness (turn-out and bridging) which means that I am still a pathetic boulderer, particularly indoors. However I don't ever worry about dislocating my hips when heel-hooking or falling and I do regularly fall from the top of the bouldering wall without a problem.
If I walk or run too far my groin muscles tighten, then my bum muscles, followed by pain in my psoas, which reduces me to an aching hobble. For example on the Welsh 3000s two years ago, I was fine for 18 miles or so to Ogwen Valley and then had to slowly limp the rest. However, the more running or walking I do the longer I can go before the pain starts. Others with hip replacements have not had these problems and have run iron men and triathlons.
My advice to anyone thinking of getting hip surgery is try to get on the list of an experienced surgeon with a good reputation- there is a lot of skill involved in for example getting both legs the same length post op. The other key is to devote as much time as you can post op to rehab. I was very lucky that my employer (ITV) gave me 3 months off each time and I just devoted every day to exercise and rest. At times I overdid it (walking 8 miles with sticks within a week of my second op!) and had to ease off, but after the 2nd op, I was back top-roping within 2 months and leading within 3.
All major operations carry risk and I don't expect everyone to have as successful an outcome as me, but I now know lots of climbers who have undergone hip surgery and made a satisfying return to the sport.
Good article. If anyone is having worsening pain, reduced mobility despite physio etc get scans. If everything is deteriorating despite meds and stretching- get a second opinion. I had a physio who dismissed the idea of any joint replacement at my age (mid 40's then) and a vague radiology report stated I had 'age related wear and tear.'
Things got a lot worse. I couldn't sit or stand comfortably. I eventually saw an ortho surgeon and his first comment to me was, "your right hip is destroyed- how does it affect you?"
Getting my right hip replaced 2 years ago was a total game changer and I was back out exercising again within months. My left one is on its way out unfortunately. Arthritis is a bugger.
Thanks Wee Davie, some good advice there. I had numerous sessions with a physio and then a chiropractor. Neither of them diagnosed any issue with my hip. When I went to the second physio (mentioned in the article) he diagnosed the hip issue within a 1 hour initial assessment. He said, "Im really angry that your previous physio failed to spot this issue with your left hip, as it's blatantly obvious to me. Either they were incompetent or they were ripping you off."
So definitely worth getting a second opinion if physio etc... isn't working for you.
I must add that the articles and the replies have been great to open my mind a little bit with regards to falling off.
As for my metal detecting, which was an activity I was going to take had the climbing been impossible, it seems to be plagued by phantom signals.
Yeah, the responses have given me improved confidence in the new hip. Still being cautious though.
Great to read about other crocks! My own condition - palindromic rheumatism - is all about balancing effort with rest, with stressing myself appropriately. I'm lucky in that flare ups don't last too long and the meds I've been on for 2-3 years work well. I took a 12 year break from climbing and got 12 years less (climbing) fit so its felt like slow improvements ever since restarting, even without arthritis in the mix. That and getting older every year. I'm not far off bouldering what I was 20 years ago (occasional 7A) and don't really do enough on ropes to compare. 6a/b feels good enough for someone who never ties on and restarts every time after a break. All climbers have to balance getting fit with managing their bodies, those of us with special needs just have to pay a bit more attention!
I only started running long distances after getting a diagnosis and I've done a lot of things I wanted to do, happy about that. Jumping off rock is much more tentative and I wince when I see people at the wall touch the top hold and let go. All my old bouldering was pre mats, now I carry 2 for the lowest of lowballs