If age is supposed to slow you down, Alexandra Morgan never received that message. At 63, she volunteers at a senior citizen center, teaches English classes to recent immigrants, and acts in plays, some of which she writes herself. In her free time, the widowed stepmother of two enjoys practicing yoga, hiking, and swimming, among other activities.
For Morgan, being physically active makes her happy.
"It reduces my stress, broadens my horizons, and inspires me with creative ideas," she says. "It keeps me fit and keeps me in tune with the planet. And it adds fun to my life!"
But a torn medial meniscus 15 years ago threatened to steal away the activities she loved doing so much. Tearing this band of cartilage in her knee caused joint pain.
"I ended up having an arthroscopic surgery to repair the tear, and it was quite successful," Morgan says.
Unfortunately, the pain returned five years ago. This time the pain was so aggravating and troublesome Morgan was unable to keep up her activity level. A sports medicine doctor diagnosed her with mild osteoarthritis (OA).
"He told me that after you've had a surgery on the knee, you're more prone to something like osteoarthritis. That was news to me," she says.
Treatments for your lifestyle
But the good news for Morgan, who lives in Santa Monica, California with her two cats, is that she had been and continued to be very active despite the pain. And as an athlete, she maintained a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet, so she wasn't carrying extra weight. People who are overweight or obese tend to experience greater pain and problems when they develop OA.
Her secret to staying fit was eating a Mediterranean-style diet with lot of fruits and vegetables. This diet helped Morgan keep her waistline slim. She also avoided foods that could increase her risk for inflammation, including refined carbs and sugar.
Because Morgan was in great shape, her doctor said she would be able to recover from surgery easily. But Morgan and her doctor weren't ready to try surgery yet.
"We decided to try something less involved. We went with a synthesized synovial fluid, and it worked very well," she says.
Synovial fluid is found naturally in the body. It's produced in the synovial membrane, a thin tissue that lines a joint. The synovial fluid is responsible for lubricating the joint. Without it, joint movement becomes painful and more difficult. Synthesized synovial fluids—also known as a viscosupplement—replace natural fluid and help provide extra lubrication.
Morgan received an injection and noticed its benefits immediately.
"After the first injection, I needed a follow-up injection every nine to 15 months," she says. Now that the pain is gone and she's back to her normal active lifestyle, Morgan receives yearly injections.
Preparing for the future
Many OA patients find that using several types of traditional and lifestyle treatments eases their symptoms. This is especially true for patients who are trying to postpone surgery.
Morgan found physical therapy to be helpful. She learned ways to strengthen her knees and how to prevent future damage.
"Maybe I'm not quite as fast, but I still have a very good pace," she says. "I pay attention to my body, and so far, I am not inhibited in doing any of the activities I love."
As Morgan learned, a trained physical therapist can help you strengthen the muscles in and around the affected knee. Because the joint is damaged, it is not as strong as it once was. That puts OA patients at a greater risk of damaging it further.
Surgery may still be in Morgan's future. But for now, she's taking her OA one day at a time.
"I really took a proactive stance in all of this," she says. "I feel very fortunate because it's not bothering me at all, and my quality of life is wonderful."