Hello Joints, How Are You Today?
This week I started seeing a physical therapist for an old shoulder injury which never healed. I was told that I have an inflamed subscapular muscle and that I had something called hypermobility syndrome, which means that my joints are naturally too loose, which puts me at risk for all kinds of joint problems including an increased risk for dislocation, misalignment, tendinitis, and early onset osteoarthritis.
Would that last one scare you? Yeah, it scared me too.
I immediately thought of two posts by Ragen at Dances With Fat: “My Joints, My Fat, and Me” and “The Trouble With Proving It.” My first thought was about all of the things I love to do and how this would affect them, but in close second was, “they’ll blame it on my fat.” And by “they” I mean society. This thought was made worse when today I discovered that I have early signs of arthritis in my knees, especially my right knee due to the hypermobility. Apparently my shoulder injury was also exacerbated by this syndrome.
A few months ago I was on a fitness forum (that’s right, I love fitness! The fellow fitness enthusiasts couldn’t understand, however, why my goal wasn’t weight loss) discussing various exercises. I discovered a new love for the kettleball (I have a serious love of swinging things around) and mentioned how this exercise was out for me at the moment because of my shoulder injuries. So, someone asked how the injury happened. Funny story: I was holding my son three years ago, tripped, and hit the floor — BAM! That’s it. A fairly boring story with a lot of resulting pain, loss of mobility, and interference in my life. What was the reaction? “Well a normal person wouldn’t have hurt themselves from a fall like that. It’s because you’re fat!”
While I’m sure my weight added some extra force, the major factor in the injury was that my arms were full (with a child!) so I couldn’t catch myself. But, no, let’s blame it on the fat. We blame everything else on fat, so why not? I can just imagine how these fitness gurus would react to a Fatty McFatterson with arthritis, especially in a weight-bearing joint.
Luckily, I seem to have the best physical therapist ever! Not once has she mentioned my weight, not even when talking about my knee. In fact, what she said was that the only effective way to improve joint health, and help prevent future joint problems, was through muscle strengthening and isometrics.
I have a whole list of these that I’m doing as well for both my upper and lower body. Isometrics are muscle-strengthening and stability exercises done without moving — think kegels! Just standing there and flexing muscles is good for them!
As Dances With Fat talks about in the above post I mentioned, weight loss is not only unrealistic in general, but being thinner doesn’t guarantee prevention of joint problems since I am, firstly, prone to them due to hypermobility syndrome and, secondly, thin people get joint problems all of the time. In fact, my physical therapist, a thin woman, has had two partial knee replacements and multiple surgeries.
Pre-Body Acceptance I may have become one of those fatties who insisted I needed to lose weight for my joints because we all know that fat people put excess wear and tear on their joints, and wear and tear always leads to joint problems, right*?
I would have spent my time damaging my health further through dangerous weight loss methods that would be ineffective (my body doesn’t even weight cycle; it just straight up refuses to lose weight to begin with!) and would have never thought to focus on fitness in a non-weight loss way, or specific muscle strengthening.
I didn’t panic and beat myself up for being so fat that I’ve damaged my joints at 26, and I don’t feel ashamed of admitting that I have joint issues. Like most illnesses related to “the obesity epidemic” this is not a weight-related problem.
Instead, I will spend my time strengthening, balancing, and listening to my body. I will take the time to be preventative in an effective way and I will raise awareness about joint health. I will teach my son these things early, since he has hypermobility syndrome as well, rather than assuming he’s safe because he’s thin. This is taking control of my health, not obsessing over weight loss.
Check out my new leg weights! Starting with 6 lbs for my knee strengthening leg lifts!
*TL;DR: This study showed that runners (who are traditionally thought to frequently suffer knee injury) do not show a greater rate of osteoarthritis and, in fact, muscle-strengthening exercises, like running, lessen the risk for osteoarthritis. We can hypothesize on what this means for fat people, who are at an increased risk of osteoarthritis. This may be because fat people are shamed and stigmatized into not exercising (while also shamed and stigmatized for not exercising), and therefore have weaker muscle strength around weight-bearing joints. Like many issues related to “the obesity epidemic,” correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation.