Steve Wallace: Managing Pain with Exercise

Steve Wallace played football for years – from high school in Chamblee, GA., to college at Auburn University in Alabama, to the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. Mementos from his career include several glittery Super Bowl championship rings and terrible knee pain from osteoarthritis (OA) a condition in which the cartilage that covers the ends of bones that make up a joint erodes. The constant pounding involved in professional football, something he describes as “going through an auto accident once a week,” likely led to his condition.

“It never crosses your mind that you could get an injury that would hamper you for the rest of your life,” says Wallace, 46. "I try to deal with the pain and the stress that goes with it, to deal with my discomfort.”

A former offensive lineman, Wallace is 6’5” and weighed 280 pounds in his peak playing days. Now the Atlanta-based businessman is retired from football and relies on weight management and regular cardiovascular exercise to control both the physical and emotional aspects of chronic arthritis pain. He works out regularly, riding a recumbent bicycle and doing resistance training in water – something he learned from his playing days.

“Doing a ton of cardio makes a huge difference” in controlling his weight to lessen pressure on his knees and to stay healthier and more energetic, he says. He also pays close attention to his diet to control his weight, as extra pounds on an already large frame can worsen pain in his knees – he’s lost all the cushioning cartilage in one knee and about 90 percent in the other. “Ten to 15 pounds makes a huge difference. Otherwise, I would have constant swelling in my knees.”

He’s holding out hope that “someone will invent something other than total knee replacement” to address OA like his, but he knows that at some point, joint replacement may be his best hope for controlling pain.

Phyllis Shlecter: Managing Pain With A Positive Attitude

Although she wasn’t a pro football player being knocked around every Sunday, Phyllis Shlecter was a highly active person who played tennis four days a week and worked full-time as a schoolteacher when, at 49, she suddenly developed symptoms of RA that she calls frightening.

“My feet were swollen. I had to wear slippers because I couldn’t put shoes on. My feet doubled in size and my hands looked like monster’s hands,” recalls Shlecter, now 84 and living in Los Angeles.

Shlecter’s RA was diagnosed in 1976, when doctors had few weapons to offer her to treat her inflammation. “I was told to take 10 aspirin a day and learn to live with my pain,” she says. She went back to teaching, but getting around the multi-story building became too difficult and she retired early. “It was so typical – within five years of diagnosis many of us leave the workforce.