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Psoriatic Arthritis Won't Slow Me Down

By Mark McGraw

I have always been active. The only exception is a six-month stretch of time when I was put in a walking cast to heal a stress fracture I got in my foot while climbing 14,000-foot Mount Shasta. Even then I tried to exercise. I could still lift weights, right? The podiatrist said no. Ugh.

It was a surprise to learn I actually have psoriatic arthritis. I thought everyone had a stiff neck and back once they hit their mid-40s. I also thought that my years spent playing college football, breaking horses on our family ranch, and climbing numerous mountains had just taken a toll on my joints. No, I was told, most people did not have the limited mobility and stiffness that I was experiencing. I definitely had psoriatic arthritis.

I had suffered with psoriasis for years. It started with my scalp, and then my legs, my arms, my back, my hands, my ears. It happened on one visit that my dermatologist asked if I had any joints that were stiff or achy. I pointed to my finger, my wrist and my ankle. She then asked if my neck or back bother me. "Of course," I said, "all the time." She asked why I never told her and I said, "You're my skin doctor, I didn't think we were supposed to talk about my joints." Next stop was a referral to the rheumatologist.

After X-rays and a thorough range of motion examination, the rheumatologist informed that I had significant damage in my neck, my upper thoracic area of my spine and the lower sacroiliac area of my back. Now I understood why I was uncomfortable sitting for long periods of time. The rheumatologist said she would start me on a combined regimen of a tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) blocker and methotrexate to try and slow the progression of the damage to my joints. And now it was time for the dreaded question, "How does this affect the sports and activities that are so much a part of my life?

Her answer surprised me. She said, "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it." She felt that the weight lifting, hiking and climbing had helped maintain my mobility. I did make one change: I quit running. I knew running hurt, but I did it to keep in shape. I switched over to biking and I am now in better aerobic shape and suffer a lot less joint pain.

Fast-forward about 10 years. I have climbed around 75 mountain peaks throughout the Sierra Mountain Range and many of the Cascade Mountains. Next summer I am planning to climb Mount Rainier with a peak elevation of 14,411 feet. Yes, I will be sore after I climb the mountain. Who wouldn't be sore? I plan to enjoy every step, every breath, every ache, every pain… because I can.

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