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Will a 100km trek make my osteoarthritis worse?

Q) I hope you can give me some advice. I'm a 67-year-old female who has been teaching fitness classes for nearly 30 years. I've had patellofemoral problems for about 10 years now, with full thickness loss in both knees. Now I've been told I have moderate osteoarthritis in both hips.

I've signed up for a charity event, a 100km trek that I'm hoping to finish in about 30 hours. My question is – is this a good thing to do? Is this challenge likely to make the osteoarthritis worse? I take co-codamol and am happy to walk through the pain but don't want to make things worse by taking this on. Thanks for reading this.
Val (Summer 2017)

A) It looks like you are someone with a good base level of fitness, but the event you've signed up for would be a very serious undertaking for anyone. Only you can know whether this is a realistic ask.

Looking at the total distance your joints and body will cover in a lifetime, 100km isn't a long way. The main issue here is trying to cover it in one go (and in just 30 hours)!

It's critical to allow plenty of time for thorough preparation to avoid injury and a flare-up of your joint pain. The only way to see whether your body and joints are up for the challenge would be a gradual controlled increase in each training session, so your body becomes accustomed to the additional activity. Mixing walking, flexibility exercise and perhaps some low-impact aerobic exercise should improve your endurance.

If you can set goals and gradually increase your training load and distance walked without causing untoward pain or other problems, then this bodes well for the full event. Things to watch out for are joint swelling and soreness and pain after exercise, which doesn’t settle down in a day or two. These would be a sign that your joints aren't handling the extra training.

Also, don't forget the importance of well-fitting footwear, hydration and nutrition during training and the event itself. If you do decide to go ahead, I wish you the best of luck and hope you raise a lot of money for your chosen charity!

This answer was provided by Dr Tom Margham for the Summer 2017 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

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