Emma’s Story

It was at age 34 when I first felt a significant pain in my hip. I often use the phrase ‘hip problem’ when explaining my condition, but I don’t like it. However, it is the only way to convey to others, in the shortest possible time, what I am dealing with. I suppose my ‘hip journey’ began when I was around 14. I would feel a mild ache in my inner thigh after exercise, but I didn’t really think much of it at the time. However looking back, that was the first sign of my hip instability. Having always been able bodied, it never occurred to me that one day, I would simply have to stop running.

During my 20s and early 30s I regularly exercised without injury. Most activities I loved to do were high impact. I played netball once a week, I went to Zumba classes, I jumped up and down in clubs on Saturday nights. I stood for hours at gigs and festivals, I walked endlessly through foreign streets on holidays. I also enjoyed running and took part in several 10K runs in Manchester.

When training for my third 10K, I made it my mission to improve my speed. I wanted to beat my previous times so I started interval training in the local park. I sometimes wish I could go back in time and stop myself from doing this. I can still remember the first pain after a sprint when I knew something was wrong. I assumed, again, that it was some kind of muscle injury but at this point I didn’t want to stop running. I went to see a physio who suspected a labral tear, and suggested I book an appointment with the doctor. In the lead-up to the run, I slowed down the training and opted for biking to work. I had already raised over £400 for a local charity and didn’t want to let them down. When it came to the race day, I ran the whole way, but the latter part of the race was extremely painful. I knew that something was badly wrong and I worried afterwards that I had made the injury worse.

I had various appointments at the hospital: for an MRI scan and then eventually an X-Ray. It was after this that I first heard the words ‘hip dysplasia’. I was referred to Wrightington Hospital, which is the specialist hip centre in the UK, and thankfully just an hour from my house.

The first meeting I had with the doctor there, I told him that ‘I just want to get back to running’. When he said, ‘we’ll get to that’, I should have known that it wouldn’t be so straightforward. But I just couldn’t conceive of the idea that I would be mobile and unable to run, or advised against it. I was told that both of my hips were mildly dysplastic, the left hip more so, with degenerative changes. There was some cartilage loss and a cyst, which was causing the pain. Unfortunately, a PAO was out of the question, as the labrum was too badly damaged. But I was now in a situation where the damage wasn’t enough to go forward with a total hip replacement either. I was told to wait it out, stop running, and go to a physio for strengthening exercises.

I was devastated to be told I could no longer run, and I had no idea how my life was about to change. I religiously did the exercises prescribed by the physio, but after a year the pain was worse.

Eventually I went back to the hospital to push for more answers. I was so frustrated by what I couldn’t do. I cut my hours down at work so that I could spend more time on my physio and strengthening. As a teacher, I was on my feet for up to eight hours a day and I was becoming more and more fatigued. When I explained the pain to the doctor, I was told that many people experience back issues as they get older. But at 37 this didn’t seem like it was something that I should just accept.

Things started to change when, during the pandemic, the UK went into lockdown. I had lost my dad in 2019, and at the time I felt like things couldn’t get any worse. Despite this, I committed myself to exercise classes online and pushed myself to go for walks every day. But when I look back at that time, it is not the anxiety of covid that I remember most, but the constant irritation and pain in my hip.

I am not sure how exactly I found the Help for Hip Dysplasia website (probably while I was scrolling on Instagram or Facebook) but it came at the point when I needed it most. I signed up for Laura’s Patreon and started to work my way through some of the classes. Eventually I booked an online appointment with her and I can honestly say that I don’t know where I would be without her support, the platform she has created, and the ‘hippy’ community. Laura has guided me through the pain and fatigue, and has given me simple but effective exercises that have allowed me to continue to work and exercise.

Last year I also went back to see the hip consultant at Wrightington. This time I saw Mr Divecha, and I felt as if I was listened to for the first time. The tears were streaming down my face as I detailed my experience. The back pain was far worse, and I was so exhausted that I was considering a change in career. He agreed to more X-Rays, another steroid injection, and further discussions on the surgical options. 

It has been a year since that appointment. On my return – after a failed steroid injection, a number of flare-ups, and despite my arthritis only being in the early stages – I was finally offered a hip replacement. In the meantime, I am doing everything I can to minimise the irritation and pain. I push heavy weights in the gym but I avoid carrying heavy loads anywhere else. I try to move and stretch but rest whenever I feel tired. I swim once a week and the Jacuzzi helps to ease my aching muscles. I take a walking aid on long walks. I often say my wife also acts as my walking aid; she carries all of our baggage on holiday and pushes me up steep hills (it makes such a difference!). She also requests seats at music venues for me whenever we go to a gig. 

When I see people going for a jog on the street I still get a small tear in my eye, and that’s not an exaggeration. I haven’t given up hope that I might be able to run again one day, but if I can’t, I’m okay with that too. For the moment I will continue to strengthen my hip and glute muscles, as prehab for surgery. When I am feeling low, I have to remember that despite being in daily pain, I am currently not reliant on painkillers and I was lucky to get to my thirties without my current pain level. The dysplasia might be ‘mild’ but I wanted to share my story for anyone who has also been diagnosed later on in life. I will continue to advocate for disability rights as I really think we need to change the conversation around disability and accessibility in the UK and beyond.