10th October 2010 Words and Photos: Chris Sidwells
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Cycling gave 65-year-old Gill Moon a new lease of life after double hip surgery.
She rides 50 miles at a go, she’s taken part in the 425km Cycle India, but just a few years ago an active life looked like a thing of the past for Gill Moon. “I had arthritis in both hips and was on my way to being housebound,” she says.
Her hip pain had worsened over a number of years, but when driving became impossible Gill felt she had no option but to go under the knife. “The surgery I had is called a Corin Hip Resurfacing and I was going to have both joints done together, but fresh guidelines on the procedure brought in the week before meant that I had one done in 2003 and the other in 2004.
“I chose hip resurfacing because I was too young for conventional hip replacement, and I felt I needed to act sooner rather than later to remain active. I felt not doing so could lead to other health problems. I’ve never been one for sitting around, I really wanted to get going again and be able to do the things I’d always done,” she explains.
By having the joints resurfaced separately, Gill faced two periods of rehabilitation, and the first was particularly difficult. “Recovery was slow after the first op, on my left hip. I had a drop foot due to stretching of my sciatic nerve, and I had to wear a splint. But after the second op I was home after five days, and walking my dog on crutches after three weeks,” she says.
Getting back to a normal life again was a big relief. “Being active felt fantastic. Like the first time the physio did a sideways abduction of my leg, it hadn’t moved that way for years. The difference from crying out in pain, from having to take painkillers, arthritis drugs and muscle relaxants to sleep, was amazing.”
Then Gill started thinking about doing more, even setting herself a physical challenge. She enjoyed cycling and says that she thought taking it up again would help build her strength back up after surgery. “It’s one of the things you hear works for people who’ve had hip operations. Swimming is another, but although I got lessons I never really got the hang of it. My doctor was all for me cycling, so that’s what I started doing.”
But as Gill’s rides grew longer she decided to go for an ambitious target.
“I read about Cycle India, which was a ride of 425 kilometres for women through Rajastan. The idea is to raise money for Women for Women, a charity that funds the training of women scientists and clinicians working on women’s health problems. I wanted to help the charity because one of the research areas they support is in pregnancy, and I’d had one miscarriage and a daughter with a congenital heart condition who died at three, so doing the sponsored ride meant a lot to me.”
Cycle India required some serious training. “I started at Easter 2005. I live near the Tarka Trail in Devon, which is the perfect place for me to ride. It’s a rail line that’s been converted into a cycle trail, so not only is it flat — well, flatter than the surrounding roads — but there’s no traffic on it. The rides I do there are out and back, which is another good thing. You set a target place to ride to and from, then next time, if you get past the place where you turned before, you know you’re improving.”
Gill’s first rides were 10 kilometres, then 12, 15 and more, until the day when she rode the whole length of the trail, from her starting point and back, a distance of 96 kilometres. “The longest day of Cycle India was 90km, so when I’d ridden 96 kilometres I knew I’d be OK,” she says.
Cycle India started after a couple of days spent acclimatising to the subcontinent. “Nothing you see on the TV prepares your for the culture shock of people living their lives and running businesses from the gutter,” she says. The ride started with an 80-kilometre stage, followed by four more days, which took the group from Agra to Jaipur, though an ever-contrasting blur of rich temples, poor housing, potholed roads, elephants, camels and monkeys.
Gill left India with enough memories to fill a book. “It really was an experience. The roads were rough and we rode basic mountain bikes, but we had fantastic support and we were all spurred on by the thought of raising money. You had to raise at least £2,700 sponsorship to go on the ride, and due to everyone’s generosity I raised £3,500.”
Sir Robert Winston, the charity’s chairman, joined them on the ride and invited every participant to a reunion at the House of Lords afterwards.
Gill has overcome a number of problems along her cycling way. “I had to do away with toe clips because of having a weaker left leg. I’ve lost a bit of pedalling power but I feel safer when I stop and take my feet off the pedals. Also, after I really got into it I decided that a Specialized cyclo-cross bike was perfect for the cycling I do. However, at first I couldn’t get on with the handlebars. I got bad pins and needles, but once I got them raised with an extension I was OK. I know it doesn’t look very racy, but it works,” Gill told us.
Gill’s as keen as ever, still knocking out around 80 kilometres roughly three times a week when she’s not off exploring other countries with her husband. And she’s already got her sights set on another big cycling challenge. “I want to ride from Roscoff in Brittany down through France to the Mediterranean,” she says.
If you have had a hip replacement it’s important to exercise as soon as possible to improve healing by promoting good blood flow, building muscle around the joint and maintaining flexibility in it. It’s also important to be patient and build up slowly.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has an excellent website www.orthoinfo.aaos.org which provides a step-by-step guide to rehabilitation with excellent, helpful diagrams on how to do specific hip mobilisation and strengthening exercises.
It also says that once you are exercising and have strength back in the joint, cycling on a stationary bike is an excellent activity to help you regain muscle strength and hip mobility.
It advises adjusting the seat height so that the bottom of your foot just touches the pedal with your knee almost straight. Pedal backwards at first. Pedal forward only after comfortable cycling motion is possible backwards. As you become stronger (at about four to six weeks) slowly increase the tension on the stationary bike, pedalling for 10-15 minutes twice a day, gradually building up to 20-30 minutes three to four times a week.
This article was first published in the October 2010 issue of Cycling Active magazine