A Patient’s Experience with Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can affect anyone. Millions of Americans suffer from this disease, including a lot of well-known personalities, who are willing to share their own experiences and recommendations with our readers. This time we introduce:
Mr. Jack Nicklaus

world-famous golf champion, designer of championship golf courses all over the world, and devoted family man.

Diagnosis:     Osteoarthritis of the Hip
Treatment:     Artificial Hip Joint, January 1999

Also known as “The Golden Bear,” Nicklaus was born on January 21, 1940, in Columbus, Ohio. After recovering from a mild case of polio as a child, he was encouraged by his father to take up golf. While millions of people know Jack Nicklaus as a great golf champion, few realize that  he played with an injured hip for most of his career.

“I’m tired of playing on one leg.”

Nicklaus’ problem with his left hip began with an injury in 1963. “At the time,” he recalls, “the doctors treated it with numerous cortisone injections. Nobody can prove it, but I think that probably destroyed the articular cartilage in the area.”

The injections helped Nicklaus focus on his game, which flourished, and he soon became a major force in professional golf. But old injuries that become arthritic aren’t known to go away, and in 1988, Nicklaus asked Pete Egoscue, the well-known physiologist, to design an exercise program to help him manage his pain.
He adhered to it religiously, and played through the growing discomfort.

While his hip condition didn’t affect his game, off the course he couldn’t ignore it. “I can remember in 1993 at the PGA Championship my hip was bad enough that I told my wife, ‘I’m tired of playing on one leg.’ I had a lot of numbness, but mainly my hip was just non-supportive.” Still, he hoped he wouldn’t have to have surgery, ever. That year, Nicklaus won the U.S. Senior Open for the second time, capturing his sixth senior event since becoming eligible in 1990.

Exhausted by Pain

In 1998, when he was 58, he had achieved fame and fortune, been named Player of the Century and even Player of the Millennium by every major golf publication in the world, and accumulated a slew of titles, honors and trophies. Undoubtedly the brightest star among the great players of his generation, Nicklaus admits he also probably had the biggest physical problems. Forced by pain to withdraw from the British Open, by the end of that year he was exhausted.

“It would wear me out to get up in the morning, shower and shave or just wash my face, or get out of bed and eat breakfast,” he recalled. “I had never had that happen to me before. I’m a guy with pretty endless energy and I didn’t have a lot then.” He took a break for a few months to get his energy back. Believing that he would be able to return to top form, he scheduled two tournaments in Hawaii for January 1999. But during the last week of December, to his dismay, he realized the inevitable was upon him. “I went out to start hitting balls,” Nicklaus said. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve laid off long enough, so I’m going to get back to golf.’ ”

“I wanted to be able to walk ...”

“I hit 30 balls the first day, 50 balls the second day, and 70 balls the third day – I tried to build myself back into it. On the fifth day, I tried to play nine holes of golf and it was a disaster. That’s when I said, ‘I need to make a phone call.’ ” Once he saw that exercise couldn’t cure his problem and that he couldn’t play in Hawaii, he made the decision to have surgery. “It was just something I had to do.”

“I underwent surgery in January of 1999, not only because of golf but because of my quality of life,” he said. “I have always been an active person, and with five children and now a 20th grandchild on the way, I wanted to be healthy and able to do things with them. I wanted to be able to walk through a mall with my wife Barbara, or walk up and down a trout stream with my sons, or just play catch in the backyard with my grandchildren. Being able to play golf again was a bonus, but having my quality of life improve as it did was the driving influence in my decision.”

Nicklaus had confidence in his doctor and friend, Dr. Bruce Waxman, who had trained under Dr. Ben Bierbaum at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston. “When I spoke to Dr. Bierbaum,” said Nicklaus, “he mentioned that he was one of the participating doctors in a national experimental program using a ceramic hip joint. That is what I ended up having placed in my left hip and it’s been fantastic.”

“When you have to have surgery, you have it.”

With what he described as an aggressive rehabilitation program, he found his way back to the greens within three months. “I was out doing things,” he said. “I walked the golf course while my son Gary participated in the Doral Ryder Open in March of 1999, and I started putting and chipping and working on bunker shots. Then I started playing again.” He was pain-free.

In 2005, a year in which he played his final British Open, perhaps his final Masters Tournament, and led the U.S. to a victory in the President’s Cup, Nicklaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor an American civilian can receive. A few weeks later, GolfWorld Magazine named Nicklaus Newsmaker of 2005.

He’s never stopped working out. His daily routine, which includes strengthening and stretching, takes up to an hour and a half. He considers exercise a fundamental necessity to living an active, full life, and says to anyone facing hip replacement surgery: “Do as much functional exercise as you can to get yourself as strong as you can get, no matter what you do. I think that’s common sense. When  you have to have surgery, you have it.”

Photos: Nicklaus Design

We thank Mr. Jack Nicklaus for this very valuable account of his experience with osteoarthritis and hip joint replacement. We hope that it will help many readers to make their own decision.

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