My Health Experience: New hips got me back on my feet
Getting my hips replaced in my 40s liberated me from painkillers and enabled me to take up running and get fit
Billy Brannigan near his home in Clondalkin, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson
Billy Brannigan with Jimmy Magee, before he began his training.
I was diagnosed with arthritis in both of my hips in the summer of 2009 at the age of 40. Since then I have had both hips replaced. My doctor said my arthritis could be genetic, as my dad had both his hips replaced at 65; or it could be from a bad football injury I picked up in my early 20s; or even a combination of both.
Before my diagnosis I was in constant pain. My left hip was the worst. The pain went right across my back, down my hip and my leg and I was very stiff. Bending down to put on my socks or tie my shoes was hard work but because it was an ongoing thing I just put up with it. I was taking painkillers and had good and bad days.
In the 12 months before I was diagnosed, the pain got much worse. I was taking painkillers every day to get through work and on bad days I would be worn out with it.
It came to a head when I tried to go horse-riding during a holiday in Mexico in 2009. Within less than a minute of sitting up on the horse, I had to get off. I was in absolute agony. I knew that when I returned home I had to do something about the pain.
My GP checked my movement and sent me for X-rays. In the meantime, he prescribed a course of medication to lubricate my joints, heavier painkillers and he sent me for physio.
Within five or 10 minutes of checking my movement, the physiotherapist said he thought I had arthritis and would need my left hip replaced.
Bolt out of the blue
Even though my dad had his hips replaced, it never dawned on me that I might be heading down the same route, because I was only 40. It was a bit of a bolt out of the blue. When the X-ray results came back they confirmed what the physiotherapist had suspected. I had severe arthritis in my left hip and I had it in my right hip as well.
I had my left hip replaced in February 2010 and within six to eight months, as I was recovering, my right hip started to go downhill rapidly. I had my second hip replacement in May 2011 at the age of 42.
After each operation I was on two crutches for two weeks and then down to one crutch. As time went by I developed more strength and it took about six months to recover from each surgery.
My doctor gave me exercises to do and told me to walk as much as I could, within reason. Since about two months after the second replacement, I have been off all painkillers.
When I was younger I played sport and was always fit and healthy but over the years I had become very unfit and overweight as a result of a lack of physical exercise. I used the excuse of my aches, pains and stiffness to avoid getting involved in any activities. In the 12 months prior to getting my first hip done I had put on a lot of weight and had gone up to almost 18 stone.
I had no energy: I was absolutely worn out from the pain. When I came home from work in the evening I would head straight for the sofa, which was not good for my joints or overall health.
Great Ireland race
I made a decision that once I had both my hips replaced and I felt I was making good progress in the recovery, I was going to get myself fit again and lose weight. I watched my wife, two of my brothers and one of my sisters run the Spar Great Ireland race just before my 12-month review and decided that if my doctor gave me the go-ahead, I would run it this year. He said I should be okay.
I started at a gym doing low-impact exercise on the bike and cross-trainer. I lost about a stone and a half in weight.
In January this year I joined an athletics club and committed to an intensive training plan. My first organised run was the Spar Great Ireland 10km run in the Phoenix Park in April, which I completed in 63 minutes.
Having completed this I got the running bug and have since completed two more 10km runs, shaving minutes off my time on each occasion.
From a personal point of view, I would never have thought that I could even think about running a 10km race a few years ago, when some days I could hardly walk. I had days when I needed someone to tie my laces; and hardly a day passed without me needing to take painkillers just to get through the day.
The hip replacements have been a complete success and have given me a new lease of life. I now enjoy an active lifestyle and feel a big sense of achievement on completing the Great Ireland run – having set it as a goal 12 months ago.
My weight has gone down to just under 16 stone and I would like to get down to about 15 stone. I run three to four times a week and go to the gym once a week.
Sometimes I can be stiff when I wake up but I’m fine once I start moving. I still get niggly pains in my hips but I am not taking painkillers. When I was first diagnosed, my doctor told me to think about whether I wanted to get my hip replaced, because I was very young.
The other option was that I could keep taking painkillers. I went on the Arthritis Ireland website and did a bit of research into the area and made the decision to go for the operation.
My new hips are Birmingham steel hips, which last longer than the older plastic and ceramic hips. How long they will last depends on wear and tear. They might last 10 years, they could last 15-20 years or they might never need to be replaced.
I am feeling great now. I work for myself in the motor trade and am back doing more physical work on the floor. When it comes to exercise for people with arthritis, you kind of know your own limits.
When I was sitting on my backside watching TV and taking painkillers, I should have been walking. My uncle had his hip done since I had my first replacement but he did not follow his doctor’s advice to exercise and has not had the same benefits.
It’s very important for anybody who has had a hip replacement to do what exercise you can and follow the advice your doctor gives you to the letter as this will give you the best chance of making a good recovery.
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