I found it really difficult to accept that I have osteoarthritis

Photo of a woman doing aqua aerobics

Gabriella, 63 years old

“My doctor had been suggesting surgery for a long time, but I wasn’t ready. At some stage I just couldn’t go on.”

The first signs of osteoarthritis started showing quite some time ago. When I was in my mid 40s, I realized that I could no longer walk longer distances well. My joints weren't swollen or anything, but my knees hurt and I had the feeling that my body was getting stiffer and I was becoming less agile. My fingers and wrists became unbelievably stiff in cold weather and it often took hours before I could grip anything again.

I also used to get tired very quickly. My body felt so incredibly heavy. Every step became more difficult, and at home I started thinking carefully about whether it was really worth going up or down stairs.

It affected my whole body

I constantly had to lie down and rest. I woke up regularly in the night and had to change the position of my painful leg. I often bolstered it with pillows. At some stage, my knee swelled up and my hip started hurting.

I had started to walk differently to ease the pain in my leg. That changed my whole body – its whole structure, so to speak. The unnatural position gave me back ache. So my knee problems had started affecting my whole body. That took quite a toll on my mood.

It went on for many years, with everything very gradually getting worse. I eventually went to see my doctor. He diagnosed osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis probably runs in my family. My mother and grandmother both had it. My mother also had a joint replacement.

It wasn’t easy to accept the diagnosis

I found it very difficult to come to terms with the . I have always been a very sporty person, have always gone hiking and cycling. I'm not much of a couch potato. I found it really difficult to accept that I have osteoarthritis.

After I had let it sink in for a while and was able to accept it, I felt better and it was easier to deal with. I then made the most of the things I could do despite the illness. I went cycling a lot because I could no longer walk long distances. And I still do that. I do everything by bike. I also like to cycle a lot when I'm on vacation. I've bought myself an e-bike now that I'm getting older. It’s fantastic! My bike has become my most important means of transport.

Exercising in water was good

Treatments like creams, mud packs and curd compresses never helped me. My knee was still swollen. One thing that did really help – at least at first – was steroid injections in my right knee. That was very effective for a while. But then the intervals between the injections (or rather the effect of the injections) got shorter and shorter, and sometimes they didn’t help at all.

Exercising in water was very helpful, though. You can do aqua aerobics on your own or in groups. Some support groups offer those kinds of group activities. You usually see the same people at the aqua aerobics class every week. We often discuss things with one another during the classes, and chat before and after too, which is always nice!

Strengthening exercises are important

I also regularly did physical therapy to build up my muscles and improve my mobility. The strengthening exercises were important to me because I knew I would need a joint replacement sooner or later. I assumed that having strong muscles would then be helpful. I'm convinced that I coped better after the operation, and during the rehabilitation program, because of that.

The also showed me how to do the exercises at home. But I don't have as much discipline at home, and find it harder to motivate myself when I'm on my own. Exercise groups or a fixed appointment in the practice are really helpful! If I have an appointment, there's a bit more pressure to then go.

No big family celebrations anymore

I knew in advance that certain festivities and family events would be hard work. I sometimes used to already take painkillers beforehand. In fact, I still do today.

Before the operation, I felt anxious about parties with friends. It seemed like an overwhelming task ahead of me. Everything was such hard work and I often canceled everything or just didn't plan anything in the first place. I knew I wouldn’t manage and that I would need weeks to recover again.

I then decided to no longer do anything like that, and that there would be no big parties anymore. I found that difficult at first. But I had realized I could no longer cope. I had to use my energy sparingly. I still had children and the household to run. Most of my friends understood that and supported me.

I put off getting the knee replacement for as long as possible

I was also aware that I would eventually need a knee replacement. I tried to delay it for as long as possible. My children were still living at home, and I did all I could to keep things running smoothly in our daily lives. My husband was very busy with work, so I couldn't afford to (and didn’t want to) be out of action for weeks on end.

My doctor had been suggesting surgery for a long time, but I wasn't ready. At some stage I just couldn’t go on. The pain was so intense that even the painkillers weren't helping anymore. And they were causing stomach problems. When I finally decided to have a joint replacement, it actually came as a big relief. I first had the operation on my right knee, and a year later I also had a hip replacement.

A new lease of life

And I can tell you: it's like a new lease of life! All I can say to people in a similar situation is, don’t wait so long! I was so limited in what I could do, I no longer had a life!

That was all quite a long time ago now – 15 years. And I'm very happy with the way things are! I don't have any problems with the artificial joints, and so far neither of them have had to be replaced.

After the knee operation, I was already able to move around completely normally again without crutches after eight weeks. I still went to physical therapy, but I could soon do that again without any problems. I assume that doing the strengthening exercises before the operation helped there.

Things took a bit longer after the hip surgery because at first I wasn’t allowed to put any weight on it, and then only gradually. I could only put full weight on it again two months after the operation.

At first it felt like there was something in my knee, and I didn't have much faith in it

After the operation, I had a slightly strange feeling that there was something stuck inside my knee. But I got used to that after one or two weeks. I didn’t have much faith in the knee at first either, and was still in a bit of pain after the operation. That soon went away. It got better with each day. I was supposed to start using it straight away after the operation.

I had a pretty nasty accident on my bike about two years ago. My elbow fractured into several pieces. I fell on the side that I had been operated on. But the hip and knee replacement prostheses weren't damaged. The doctors did x-rays to check everything. They wanted to make sure everything was still in the right place.

I must admit, though, I feel quite anxious when it's snowy or icy outside, or when there are lots of leaves on the streets and paths. I'm terrified of having a fall. I'm more careful than I used to be.

My children helped me a lot – my husband struggled

My husband isn't very good at dealing with illness. He did want to help me with everyday things after the , but that didn’t work out very well. It caused quite a lot of tension between us. I had hoped he would be more considerate. But it's what he had been taught at home: Growing up, everyone in his family simply had to function, no matter what. There was no such thing as being ill. Given that, I can understand his reaction.

I involved my children very early on; they hadn't even reached puberty at the time. I told them frankly about the disease, and what I could and couldn’t do. They understood and accepted that, and were a great help!

I take much better care of myself now and plan ahead

I set myself specific goals nowadays, saying to myself ‘you’ll do that today for an hour, and then that tomorrow.’ I regularly have a rest and take some time out for myself. I read a lot, for instance.

I usually go swimming once or twice a week, but that’s not possible at the moment. I go to physical therapy every now and then. Cycling is incredibly important to me.

I often have a lie down and an hour’s snooze on the sofa in the afternoon. That recharges my batteries. I pay much more attention to my needs than I used to. That's good for my body and my mind.


Our real-life stories summarize interviews with people who are affected by the medical condition. Our interview partners have given us permission to publish their stories. We would like to express our sincere thanks to them.

The real-life stories give an insight into how other people cope and live with a medical condition. Their opinions and comments are not recommendations by IQWiG.

Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas - either via our form or by gi-kontakt@iqwig.de. We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Über diese Seite

Updated on May 15, 2024

Next planned update: 2027


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.