My Biggest Excuse and How I Use it to Be My Biggest Motivation: Living with Hip Dysplasia

Ever since I was a little girl my hips have ached constantly. Because it had been there for as long as I can remember, I never thought much about it. By the time I was 20, my back and knees were in constant pain. I finally went to see a sports medicine doctor who gave me the most terrible advice: he told me I should stop going to the gym and stop squats and lunges. Unfortunately, I listened to him.

It took very little time for me to put on a little university weight. Between the extra pounds I was carrying around and my muscles atrophying from lack of use, my pain levels went up, not down. The things I loved to do became more painful. In fact, my activities of daily life became more of a challenge. Luckily, I was smart enough to seek the help of a physio to help my knees. Eventually, I hired an amazing personal trainer to help me learn how to move right because the solution of not-doing-things sure made things worse. My amazing trainer quickly realized that my hip flexors were way too tight, and carefully helped me get stronger and more mobile. She changed my life. It took about two years of regular, properly-executed exercise and my knee pain completely disappeared! I added in the help of my wonderful friend and chiropractor Pauline So, and I got control over my back pain, too.

And then I got pregnant. By the time I was 26, I was married, pregnant and 3+ years into teaching fitness full time so I could help others the way my trainer helped me. I was also teaching 25 (often high-impact) fitness classes per week with my growing body and achy hips. When I was about six months pregnant, I was so sore I could hardly walk and finally had to stop teaching and rest for the rest of my pregnancy (and get lots of acupuncture and chiro). After my first baby was born, I worked hard to get my body back to functioning as it did before. And then I got pregnant with my second. Luckily on round #2 I took it much easier and was able to teach through most of the pregnancy. After my second (9 lbs) baby was born I was experiencing extra hip pain in a new spot — but now I was so busy with two babies, work and a toxic marriage that was failing fast that I didn’t spend much time thinking about it.

Fast forward. Functional fitness had always been my thing (before it was a thing), and I finally discovered CrossFit. CrossFit took all my beliefs and wrapped them up in a nice package with some added gymnastics and Olympic lifting (yay for learning new things in your 30s!). Constantly varied, functional movements and high intensity are the principles that I had been preaching for years – basically the best thing ever. As I dove in and began doing CrossFit certifications and learning new things to teach, my clients loved it and so did I. 

Now here’s the thing; my hips started to hold me back. Certain movements were way more challenging than they should have been based on my strength. While my body continued to be more and more functional, the weakness in my hips became more obvious as my biggest stumbling block. 

Finally, last year I went in to see my amazing GP to ask for a referral for MRI to start to get some answers. After a long wait, I went in at 2 am one night for my imaging, and within the week my doctor called to say, “Kate, you have no labrum in your left hip! It’s nearly completely worn away and what’s left is all frayed and shredded.” Your labrum is basically the lining of your hip socket, so I am bone-on-bone with no cushion. On the one hand, it was kind of nice to know that I wasn’t just being a wimp, that it wasn’t all in my head, that I had a real problem that was making certain things so challenging and sometimes painful. On the other hand, it made the pain a little more real. I couldn’t just ignore it anymore.

My doctor sent me to a wonderful surgeon who specializes in young hips. He showed me my x-rays and explained that I had Hip Dysplasia (yes, just like a golden retriever). Then he went on to do some tests on how well I function. After watching me walk he asked me to single-leg squat as low as I could on each leg. Obviously, I performed two fairly perfect pistol squats. He said, “Wow… Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. People with hip dysplasia as bad as yours can’t do all the things you can do!” He did offer me some surgical options but for now, I’m not going that route. 

To me, the moral of the story was this: I have been working so hard for nearly 20 years on optimal hip function. I see a chiro, an RMT, an osteo and I roll and stretch like crazy. I work really hard on functional strengthening movements. At 38 years old, I am stronger than I have ever been and more functional. I need to keep going no matter what and I can never stop. I tried that once and it was clearly not the answer.

But here is the other thing I know: in many (maybe most), this would be a great reason to not do things. As a fitness professional, I listen to people’s excuses on a daily basis. Even people who aren’t my clients will give me their reasons for not exercising when they find out what I do for a living (I’m not sure why they feel the need…). This could be my excuse to stop. Instead, it is my biggest motivation. I want to be able to do all my sports long into my life, to be active with my kids and my partner, to walk all day long on vacation, to try new things when the opportunity presents. As I get older my muscles will atrophy faster with inactivity, so I just have to never ever stop.

Realistically, I will likely have both my hips replaced in my 40s or 50s. If I can go into those surgeries strong, I will recover faster and get back to doing all the things I love. So, this is it. Every day, no matter what, I give my body what it needs to be it’s very best, and I will never stop!

This blog post was written by Coach Kate Laird