Here’s my Christmas list for this year:

     Large bottle of Tylenol.

     Ice pack.

     Tube of CBD cream.

     Two knee braces.

     One ankle brace.

     New pickleball racket.

     Yes, pickleball racket. A few years ago I started playing pickleball. I took a series of introductory group lessons and played a half a dozen pickup games. Then I blew out my left knee. I haven’t played since — until a few weeks ago. Now, throwing caution to the winds, I’ve started playing again.

My old pickleball racket

     Pickleball is the latest craze for seniors. It’s a cross between table tennis (which I’ve played off-and-on for years) and tennis (which I played when I was younger but I was never very good). The game is played on half a tennis court, with a solid fiberglass or composite paddle and a whiffle ball, and since it’s almost always played as doubles, there’s only a little bit of running involved.

     If my knees hold out, I think I’ll enjoy the game, meet a few people, and get some exercise. But, ultimately, it’s up to my knees. And my ankle as well.

     For a guy who’s pushed past 70, I’m in decent shape. I’m not overweight. Don’t have heart problems. No diabetes. But I do suffer from arthritis. I have chronic arthritis in my ankle and both knees, due primarily to old injuries. I have arthritis in my back, due to sitting behind a desk for 40 years.

     I also blame my parents for the bad bones. My dad dealt with back pain for as long as I can remember, and my mother got osteoporosis later in life. I don’t know how much arthritis is hereditary. But both my sisters also have bone issues. One has had surgery on her foot and her shoulder. The other has had both knees replaced.

     I have not gone under the knife myself — although I’ve considered it, and may yet get to that point. Instead, over the years I’ve been through several rounds of physical therapy, and to this day I do stretching exercises every night for my back, my knees, my ankle.

     I’ve had cortisone shots in my knees. Then in September I went through a round of prednisone. I don’t know if you’ve taken prednisone, but that stuff must be dangerous. The doctors didn’t prescribe it lightly, and the list of side effects is a long as my arm. But I took it for six days and experienced no side effects — and it worked its magic on me.

     Still, now before I play pickleball, I take a couple of Advil or Tylenol. After I get home I ice my knees. Sometimes I rub some CBD ointment on my knee and ankle. I think that helps a little. But it’s hard to tell. It might just be the placebo effect.

     I’m always wondering if there’s anything I can do to slow down arthritis, to keep the pain down. There’s a lot of advice about diet. The problem is that none of it is conclusive.

     Everyone agrees that eating plenty of vegetables, especially broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, is good for arthritis, as well as virtually every other health issue we have. We’re supposed to consume lots of fiber, and restrict intake of salt and sugar. People disagree about milk and milk products — although no one thinks eating a lot of cheese is a good idea. But that may be as much for the salt content as its milk content.

     The truth of the matter is that you can’t eat your way out of arthritis. There’s no real “cure.” Pain killers might help. Surgery can be useful for severe cases. But for most of us the best medicine is exercise — stretching for sure, as well as light-to-moderate, low-impact movement like swimming, walking, biking. And, hopefully, pickleball.

     I did ask my doctor if playing pickleball is okay. His basic response was that the best thing to do is keep Moving. So do anything, as long as it doesn’t hurt — although he did tell me not to run long distances (no danger of that!). He recommended biking and swimming because they are low impact and they build strength. But he said, don’t buy a bike and then never use it. Do some exercise that you will actually do.

     So it’s pickleball for me. I just hope that, uh, I’m being careful what I wish for. 

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Tom Lashnits Writer, Blogger
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