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How an Olympic Gold Medalist Fights Joint Pain

Photo: Courtesy of Dorothy Hamill

Olympic gold medalist and figure skating icon Dorothy Hamill skated her way to victory in the 1970s with beauty and athleticism.  When her Olympic career ended, she felt the normal aches and pains one would expect to experience after years of intensive physical training. But about 20 years ago, Hamill began began to suspect her pain might be something more.

“I had always attributed my pain to overusing my body for so many years as a youngster, as well as always touring and not sleeping in the same bed,” the 61 year old recalls. “But when I was around 40, I started noticing that the pain was all over and I was getting more uncomfortable.”

Getting the diagnosis

After seeking help for back, neck and spine pain from several physicians, Hamill was finally diagnosed with osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease. While the diagnosis was difficult to hear, it allowed her to focus her treatment on targeted pain management and recovery.

“I thought ‘OK, I can manage this,’” she says.

Working through the pain

To help her recovery, today Hamill works with her doctors to ease her severe pain through a variety of approaches, from physical therapy and yoga to staying active through walking her dogs, light hiking and biking. She says she’s also going to give pilates a try. While surgery is an option, she considers it a last resort.

“There are some forms of exercise that don’t make the pain worse, so I’m trying to figure that out,” she says. “It’s an ongoing process.”

For others with the similar arthritis pain, Hamill recommends trying to stay active, even though she knows the pain makes it difficult to find the motivation to do anything.

“I always used to think ‘oh, if I do this it’s going to make it worse,’” she says. “But most of the things I try really do help.”   

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