Charles, 62, has lived with osteoarthritis for most of his adult life, having had problems with the tendons in his left leg since childhood. Over the last eight years he’s had both knees and his left hip replaced, but his positive approach and passion for swimming have helped Charles to keep doing what he loves.
Charles explains: "I’ve always been active; enjoying long walks, swimming and playing golf despite having good and bad days with the pain in my legs.
"In my 50s my knees got worse really quickly and it soon limited what I was able to do. But I’ve always kept on swimming, even during the difficult times when I’ve had to stop doing other things because of the pain."
Swimming to live well
Charles credits swimming with playing a vital role in helping him to live well with arthritis, saying:
"Swimming has helped me in so many ways. I’ve no doubt it played a big part in delaying the inevitable when it came to having my joints replaced. I wanted to hold off on the operations as long as possible and because swimming is non-weight bearing I could keep my knees moving even on bad days.
"It’s also meant I’ve been more physically prepared for the operations and has helped me to have a speedy and full recovery each time."
"Swimming is the key thing I do to keep my knees and hip as healthy as possible. It’s very important psychologically as well. I won’t deny some mornings it’s a chore getting up and going to the pool, but I always feel so much better for it. After I’ve been for a swim, I feel great and I think ‘I have done something today’. It lifts you.”
Fourteen weeks after his most recent operation, Charles is back at work for the National Trust, playing golf, walking in Derbyshire with his wife Karen and, of course, swimming twice a week. He explains: "I love life, so I'm determined to make my new knees and hip last as long as possible and to get the most out of them. Swimming is a big part of making that happen.
"If it wasn’t for swimming my life wouldn’t be as complete as it is. I wouldn’t be able to do everything I enjoy."
"If anyone living with arthritis is thinking of trying swimming, I’d say give it a go. It might not be easy at first, but it gets easier and the benefits are huge. You’ll be able to live a fuller life and you’ll smile more!"
Read our exercise and arthritis information for more on exercising safely with arthritis.
To find out more about adult swimming classes for beginners or refresher courses for those in need of a confidence boost, visit the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA)
If you love to swim and want to take on a fresh challenge, why not join Team A and sign up for one of the many swimming events around the UK? You could raise money for vital research into arthritis, while keeping your joints moving and your muscles strong. Find out more about our swimming events.
We asked Dr Tom Margham for advice on exercising in water when you have arthritis. He explains:
Why is swimming good for arthritis? Is it safe for everyone?
Swimming is an excellent all-round form of exercise for people with arthritis because the joints are supported in the water, which makes it easier to move them even when you have inflammation around your joints.
It builds strength and flexibility, as well as improving cardiovascular health and fitness by exercising your heart and lungs. Swimming can also help with pain and increase stamina, which can pay dividends outside the pool."Swimming builds strength and flexibility. It can also help with pain and increase stamina."Dr Tom Margham
However, people with knee replacements are advised to avoid breaststroke swimming and this advice extends to people with arthritis in their knees and hips. This is because swimming breaststroke puts excessive side-to-side and rotational forces on the joints and may be difficult to do if the joint is unstable. Front crawl and backstroke, which use a 'kick' motion, are recommended instead.
If breaststroke is your preferred stroke, one option is to try using a float between your legs while using breaststroke arm action and then do the kick either with the float in your hands or while holding on to the side of the pool.
What is hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy – a set of exercises done in warm water under the supervision of a physiotherapist – is a safe and effective treatment for arthritis. The exercises either take place in a group or a one-to-one session, usually running for a few weeks. The aim is to give you the initial confidence to keep on exercising in water by yourself in the longer term.
Formal hydrotherapy may not be available as an option for everyone with arthritis; however, many people benefit from water-based exercise sessions held in shallow water at local swimming pools. Public pools should also have equipment and trained staff who can give you extra help in getting in and out of the pool, if required.
Find out more about hydrotherapy.