Arthritic Athletes Still Active

Arthritis does not stop famous athletes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

Arthritis is a painful condition that can make it difficult to perform daily tasks. But it doesn't have to put your life on hold. There are plenty of arthritis patients out there who continue living active lives. And some of these patients you may even recognize.

Even some of your favorite athletes are affected by arthritis. For some of these athletes, arthritis got in the way of their professional careers. For others, it was just another obstacle to overcome. However, arthritis never kept these icons from staying active. Quitting just wasn't an option.

If you have arthritis, do not lose hope. With the help of your doctor and other healthcare professionals, you can find ways to reduce pain and maintain an active lifestyle.

This article lists a number of notable figures who have battled with arthritis. Knowing that they didn't let arthritis keep them down may give you the hope and strength you need to fight this painful condition.

Joe Namath

Joe Namath was not just any quarterback. He was an NFL Hall of Famer and Super Bowl MVP. Over the course of his career, he became a household name.

Yet even when Namath was still playing professional football, he was afflicted by knee problems. Eventually, he was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, or the "wear-and-tear" form of arthritis. Although he is now retired, Namath continues to give support to others living with arthritis.

While Namath has been the spokesperson for the "Get a Grip on Arthritis" program, he has met with other Americans living with arthritis.

"I am hoping that people will listen to me when I tell them that they can help themselves to cope with this by exercising and doing some things differently," Namath said.

"Maybe it will help them to know that I have some of the same limitations they do."

Wayne Gretzky

Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky is one of the greatest players to ever play hockey. To some, he is one of the greatest athletes ever. He's even earned the nickname "The Great One."

By his 30's, Gretzky started to feel pain and swelling in his joints. At age 38, he was diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

Even though Gretzky retired from the NHL in 1999, he didn't slow down. Today, he avidly raises awareness about arthritis.

Gretzky may have left professional hockey, but he stayed in the game by acting as the executive director of the Canadian men's hockey team at the 2002 Olympics - where his team won the gold medal. In addition, a 49-year-old Gretzky was the final torchbearer during the 2010 Olympics.

Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play baseball. He was an eight-time MLB All Star and National Baseball Hall of Famer. Over the course of his 27-year career, Ryan struck out a total of 5,714 batters.

When Ryan reached his 30's, he started to feel signs of osteoarthritis. Soon after the symptoms set in, he retired from baseball.

Even though Ryan's painful knees have kept him off the diamond, he remains active.

"Because the impact of running irritates my knees, I ride the bike, walk and swim instead," he said.

"I don't play tennis anymore because of the constant stress that starting and stopping suddenly produces," he explained. "But I still lift weights and stretch - even more regularly than during some of my younger days. And I've got to say, my strength and flexibility are pretty solid."

If you are living with arthritis, you should follow Ryan's lead: aerobic exercise (e.g., walking, running, biking) and resistance exercise (e.g., weightlifting) play a key role in treating arthritis.

Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron was the National Baseball Hall of Famer who broke Babe Ruth's home run record. After playing 21 seasons in a row, Aaron never had a serious injury. Even today, many of his records remain unbroken.

Soon after Aaron retired from the MLB, he started to feel the wear and tear of a lifetime of baseball. Only recently was he diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

Aaron is now sharing his own experience with arthritis to raise awareness through the "Get Back in the Game" campaign. With the help of the company that makes Synvisc-One (the medication Aaron uses to treat knee pain), Aaron raised money to support research and programs at the Arthritis Foundation.

"The reason I'm involved in the 'Get Back in the Game' campaign is because I don't want people to give up," said Aaron.

"I want them to understand that there is still hope out there for them, and to go to their doctor for advice," he said.

If you have arthritis, doctors and other healthcare professionals can give you advice and treatment to help reduce pain and boost your mobility. Communicating with your doctor could make all the difference in your battle with arthritis.

Phil Mickelson

PGA Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson is one of the biggest names in golf. Unfortunately, right before he was to play in the 2010 US Open, Mickelson started to suffer from severe joint pain. Soon after, he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis - a type of arthritis that affects psoriasis patients.

Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition. In some patients, this inflammation can spread to the joints. In fact, the inflammation of psoriatic arthritis can affect the entire body.

About 5 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis.

Despite his painful condition, Mickelson was able to get back on the golf course with the help of his doctors.

With the support of pharmaceutical companies Amgen and Pfizer, Mickelson started a program called "On the Course with Phil Mickelson" to raise awareness about psoriatic arthritis.

"This [program] is meant to give people who have similar symptoms the tools and resources that will help them get questions of their own answered," Mickelson said.

"I was so luckily because I got on it right away, so I was able to slow or stop any further damage," he said.

For many arthritis patients, especially those with inflammatory forms of arthritis, early treatment is key. If you are feeling joint pain or other symptoms of arthritis, see a doctor. Your doctor can give you the treatment and advice you need to prevent permanent joint damage.

Nancy Lopez

Professional golfer Nancy Lopez is a legend of the LPGA tour. She was the youngest person every inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, Lopez was diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis in her early 40's. But that didn't keep her off the golf course. Today, Lopez has learned how to manage her arthritis and continues to play golf.

Bruce Jenner

You may recognize Bruce Jenner as the stepfather of the Kardashian sisters - the now famous socialites with their own television show. But long before the Kardashians were on TV, Jenner was a well-known Olympic athlete.

In the 1976 Olympics, Jenner won the gold medal in the decathlon. Now, he has been living with osteoarthritis for almost 20 years.

Even though the Olympics are now out of the question for Jenner, he continues to have an active lifestyle. In addition, he has been working hard to raise awareness about the prevention and control of arthritis.

Dorothy Hamill

In the 1976 Olympics, Dorothy Hamill won the gold medal for figure skating. She was only 19 years old back then. Now 35 years later, Hamill is living with osteoarthritis. Even though the condition affects her neck, hips and knees, she maintains and active lifestyle and continues to skate.

"I still skate 5 days a week now, up to 3 hours or sometimes even more," Hamill said. "Although my body doesn't do what it used to, the exhilaration is still there - the feeling of speed, the joy of moving to music."

Bart Conner

During the 1984 Olympics, Bart Conner won two gold medals in gymnastics. However, at the young age of 22, Conner was diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

Since his diagnosis, Conner has stayed around sports. He has had a long career as a sports commentator and has worked to help arthritis patients learn to stay active while living with their condition.

Review Date: 
December 13, 2012