“The thing that drives me is my sport": How playing table tennis has helped Nick to live well with osteoarthritis

17 June 2024
Nick playing table tennis wearing blue t-shirt

Nick, 75, from Derby, has osteoarthritis in his hips and right knee. He plays table tennis competitively and is also a qualified coach. 

Here, Nick tells us how table tennis helps with his pain and shares his tips on staying physically active with osteoarthritis.

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Living with knee pain

Nick was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in his right knee about five years ago. He has had it in his hips for much longer.

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body. While our joints are made of complex living tissue that our bodies constantly repair and maintain, osteoarthritis occurs when our bodies can no longer do this effectively. The cartilage becomes thin, and the joint cannot move as easily as before, causing pain, stiffness and sometimes swelling as the body attempts to repair the joint.

"Over the past year or so my knee has become very painful," says Nick. "It's causing me a lot of bother.  I tend to walk with my right leg very straight, as if I'm using a splint, because that's relatively painless. But as soon as I bend the knee, like getting into a car or out of a chair, it hurts like hell." 

Nick has had both of his hips replaced in the past and has been told he needs a total knee replacement. He has been having steroid injections in his knee to reduce his pain and hopes to be given a date for his knee replacement surgery soon.

“I’m due to compete in a major table tennis competition in July,” he says. “So, hopefully the steroid injection will allow me to practise for a month, then play in the competition.”

Playing table tennis

Nick has played table tennis ever since he was 12 and has been coaching since he was 19.  He comes from a family of players and says the sport is part of his DNA.

“The thing that drives me is my sport,” he says. “I’ve been a competitor, a coach and an administrator. I still coach and compete, though not at the same level as previously. My goal for this year is to play in the World Veterans Championships in Rome in the over 75 age category. That’s what’s driving me.

“These days I play in local leagues, in the Derby and Nottingham areas. I also play in regional tournaments across the UK, in over 60 and over 70 age categories. This season I’ve played in events in Sunderland, Crawley, Wolverhampton and Norwich.

“In recent years, I’ve played in age group events in European competitions. I was in Norway last summer and, before that, in Hungary, Sweden, Germany, Croatia and the Czech Republic.”

The benefits of table tennis

Staying as active as possible has been proven to help people with arthritis manage their symptoms and pain. When it comes to deciding which types of physical activities to do, it helps to find exercises that you enjoy. That way, you’ll be more likely to stick to them.

Nick’s love for table tennis means that he’s been playing it for most of his life. He finds that the sport helps to keep him fit and active.

“Table tennis is my primary exercise,” he says. “It’s a very fast sport. The ball can travel at up to 70 miles per hour and you have very little reaction time. At a high level, you have to be very fit to play, fitter than most sports.

“It’s an aerobic sport, but there’s a lot of strategic choices and tactical decisions to make. It keeps the brain, the muscles and the lungs working hard. I guess that’s beneficial to an old man like me. I love it. It can be frustrating, but I love it.”

Alongside the physical and mental benefits of table tennis, Nick also enjoys the social side of the sport.

“I love the competition but also the camaraderie,” he says. “It’s both an individual sport and a team event. You enter tournaments as an individual, but you compete in league or county matches as a team.”

Try our knee exercises Try our hip exercises

Weight training

Nick using gym machineWhen it comes to exercising with osteoarthritis, it’s important to find an exercise you enjoy and do it regularly (twice a week is a good place to start).

You should start with small amounts of the exercise that aren’t too strenuous and build up gradually. Everyone is different, so it’s important to listen to your body and do what feels right for you.

Alongside playing table tennis, Nick has been doing weight training at the gym.

"I'm trying to build up the muscles in that leg in the hope that it'll take the pressure off my knee," he says. 

“My legs are certainly getting stronger. I know it won’t reduce the arthritis, but hopefully it will mitigate the effects.”

Nick’s advice for exercising with osteoarthritis

Nick has some advice to other people who have osteoarthritis and want to become more active.

“I would just say do it,” he says. “It’s very easy to just think you’re in pain, that it hurts and if you keep still, it won’t hurt so much. But exercising doesn’t hurt as much as you think it will.

“Maybe it’s getting used to the pain, so you don’t notice it as much. If you keep playing you don’t always notice the pain and you often achieve things you hadn’t expected. The endorphins really help too.”

We’re here to help 

We have lots of resources to help, educate and motivate and people with arthritis to find an exercise routine that works for you: 

  • Try Let’s Move with Leon, a 12-week programme consisting of 30-minute sessions designed to help you improve mobility, posture, balance, cardiovascular and respiratory fitness and strength.  
  • Join our Let’s Move Facebook group, a space where people share their experience of staying active when living with arthritis. 
  • Sign up to our Let’s Move newsletter to receive advice and top tips on how to stay active with arthritis.