During her 22-year career, world-class speed skater Nathalie Lambert had to cope with more than just rigorous training and stiff competition - she was also fighting a battle against osteoarthritis (OA).
Nathalie's problems with OA started early. Her doctor warned her that she was at risk of OA because of the way her knees were shaped. The heavy dry-land and weight training she did for her speed skating made her knee problems worse, and in her late 20s, she was diagnosed with OA.
Nathalie retired from speed skating in 1997 after breaking her ankle. While the ankle was healing, she couldn't exercise and lost a great deal of muscle mass and strength. It was then, she says, that her knee problems became worse.
Although having OA did not come as a surprise, Nathalie says that she had no idea what the consequences would be. She knew the disease would affect her skating career, and she had to change the way she was training in the last 5 or 6 years of her career because of the OA. But she wasn't prepared for the pain that would wake her up at night, the stiffness she would feel after sitting for a long time, or the trouble she'd have playing with her daughters because she couldn't kneel down.
But Nathalie hasn't let OA slow her down! Thanks to finding a treatment that works for her, Nathalie enjoys walking, using the elliptical trainer, and her new passion - dancing. She also enjoys promoting fitness through her role as Director of Corporate Sales and Communication at a downtown Montreal health club.
Nathalie Lambert, Olympic gold medallist from Quebec, has tried many different treatments during her years with OA, including physiotherapy, massage therapy, countless medications, and 3 surgeries in each knee, with varied success.
But 5 or 6 years ago, Nathalie and her doctor worked out a treatment plan that changed her life for the better. The plan includes a combination of regular, daily medication use, stretching, and exercise. Her treatment makes a daily difference in her pain, and with regular exercise she can function better thanks to an improved range of motion.. She also sleeps better. And thanks to her treatment plan, she can do the sports she enjoys, including walking, elliptical trainer workouts, and dancing.
Nathalie believes that staying with your treatment plan can help keep you on track. "If I stop taking my medication even for 2 days," she says, "I see the difference right away in terms of pain."
Nathalie says it's also very important to know what to expect from your treatment. In most cases, treatments don't do everything. People with OA still need to do a lot on their own. "They need to understand more about the illness they have and what will happen if they don't take care of it," says Nathalie. "People should use the Arthritis Society and their doctor to find out what to expect from treatment."
When asked if she had any advice for others with osteoarthritis (OA), three-time Olympic medallist Nathalie Lambert had an emphatic answer: stay active!
As Director of Corporate Sales and Communication at a health club in downtown Montreal, Nathalie has seen that people with OA tend to become less active. "They may be fine for a couple of years," she says, "but eventually their arthritis gets a lot worse because they're not exercising."
Without exercise, Nathalie warns, the joints get stiffer and muscles get weaker, so the joints end up taking more of the stress because the muscles are weak. And she speaks from experience - when she broke her ankle and couldn't train for a while, she found that her arthritis got worse because she lost muscle mass. People who stop exercising also lose their range of motion.
Nathalie urges people with OA to stay active "to make sure you don't lose what you have." The best exercise, she says, depends on which parts of your body are affected by OA. Swimming, elliptical trainers, and biking are great for lower body problems. Walking is also great exercise. Dancing gives a full workout and helps maintain flexibility and range of motion. Whichever activity you choose, it's critical to keep moving. As Nathalie says "the less you exercise, the worse it is."