A Patient’s Experience with Osteoarthritis

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

      Mr. Dave Prowse,

famous for his legendary role as Darth Vader in the film Star Wars and also a champion weight lifter who trained Christopher Reeve for the role of Superman.

Diagnosis:   Osteoarthritis of the Hip

Treatment:   Artificial Hip Joints (multiple)

From his home in London, he talked very candidly about his experiences with osteoarthritis and joint replacements. While he is aware that he has been very hard on his body and has not taken good enough care of his newly implanted joint, he recommends that others be more careful and considerate. Very involved in the fight against osteoarthritis, he even launched a charity and helped to raise funds for an arthritis research center in England.

Mr. Prowse, how did your trouble with osteoarthritis begin?

I had a long weight-lifting and body-building career. I’ve trained since I was 15, and I’m 71 now. And I’d never had any injuries, until one day, when I had an accident in a leg press machine.

I was doing leg presses with a lot of weight, and the thing comes crashing down and pins me into the machine.
I couldn’t get out of it; I had to be rescued from it. When I eventually got out of the machine, I couldn’t put my left foot down on the floor. I had to hobble out of the gym holding onto the back of a chair, using it as a kind of support. And I said to myself, well, I have done something now.

The unfortunate thing was that it was only two or three days before I was to do a tour of Nebraska and North and South Dakota. I went off in agony with this hip injury. And when I was in Omaha, I went to see a surgeon. And he said, “You’ve obviously got an arthritic hip. Sooner or later you’re going to have to get your hip replaced.”

I came back from the tour and my hip wasn’t getting any better, it was getting worse in fact. So I went to see another surgeon and he told me I definitely had to get my hip done. And so within a year I had the first of my many hip replacement jobs. This was in 1990. Soon after, the other hip had to be replaced, too.

Also, as I started having problems with arthritis, the first thing I did was try and find out as much as I possibly could to see if there was anything I could do to help myself. But that accident was how it all started.

How was it for you, dealing with the pain and limitations of OA?

Well, the worst was that it was just impossible to walk properly. I couldn’t walk any distance, and it was excruciatingly painful. Even if I walked for a short while, to the end of the road and back, by the time I got back the pain was excruciating. Sometimes I could hardly put my foot down on the floor without getting these terrible shooting pains in my hip joint.

You mentioned that you’ve had several hip replacements?

I’ve had both hips replaced, and I’ve had replacement replacements. I’ve had numerous dislocations. I’m very hard on my body. People say I don’t give myself time to rest.

For instance, when I had a hip replacement in Atlanta, I went into the hospital on Monday, had it done Tuesday, sat up on the edge of the bed Wednesday, I was on crutches Thursday, and walked out of the hospital on Friday and went directly to work to do an autograph signing session in a store in Atlanta. Saturday and Sunday I had a big convention, and I dislocated my new hip Sunday night.

I was at a reception, and I got up to go get something to eat. I was on crutches, and I came back and was just about to sit down and the thing popped out. They raced me to the hospital and there they sort of put it back in. I got off the operating table and walked out of the hospital, back to the hotel. But that’s me. Stupidly, you know.

Arthritis is in my family; my mother had arthritis and my grandmother had arthritis. But for me, I think it’s because of the life I’ve led. Body building, weight lifting, and heavy training – I’ve probably given my joints too much strain and pounding over the years. My daughter and granddaughter have knee problems. I’ve told them to pause with their sports for a while, and not to put any strain on their joints – which is what I should have done, too.

And how are your hips today?

My most recent hip replacements were excellent. I went to see the surgeon when I was in Atlanta recently, and he examined my hip and he said, “It’s amazing. You’ve got amazing rotation and flexibility. And your leg is very strong.” Both hips are still in good stead. I’m back at the gym, and I’m training on a regular basis.

How are you getting along with your new hips?

I’ve always tried to be as independent as I possibly can. Even now, I travel all over the world on my own, carry my bags, and wherever you go you get assistance, and people help you in hotels and so on. But everything I can possibly do on my own, I do. I can walk reasonably well with a stick or a crutch and I go to the gym and train and do all the normal things people do.

And, well, I’ve just finished a big film called Perfect Woman. So I travel a  lot doing these appearances, and the film and television work as it comes along. I just don’t want to be out of action. There’s so much happening and, of course, for the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, there’ll be events  all over the world. There’ll be a big celebration at the Los Angeles convention center and there’ll be celebrations in Europe and Japan, as well. So I’ve got to stay healthy and fit.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering having joint replacement?

Go for it. Definitely go for the joint replacement. Hips and knees now are so good and they are doing hip replacements with very small incisions. My brother has just had a knee operation, and it has taken him about three months to recover, but his knee is fantastic. So definitely, if you have the opportunity to have it done, have it done.

We thank Mr. Dave Prowse 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.

Return to Patients' Experiences