KILKENNY hurling hero and current Offaly manager, Michael Fennelly, is sharing his personal story in a short film to raise awareness of a form of inflammatory arthritis that can take up to eight years to diagnose in Ireland.
The eight times All-Ireland winner and three times All-Star is supporting Back in Action, the new campaign from Arthritis Ireland, which aims to make people more aware of ankylosing spondylitis (AS).
AS mainly affects the spine, but can also cause pain and/or swelling in the shoulders, hips, knees, heels, chest/ribs and small joints of the hands and feet.
While back pain is very common in the general population, only a small percentage of people will have inflammatory arthritis of the spine.
Fennelly was 20 only when he was diagnosed with AS and he has been living with the painful condition for 16 years.
He initially needed extra physiotherapy to ease his joints before training sessions and games; however, he didn’t realise that his pain was due to AS until his father was hospitalised with the same condition.
PHYSICAL DEMANDS OF HURLING
Over time, the stiffness and pain in Fennelly’s back and neck, caused by AS, began to create major difficulties, given the massive physical demands of the game.
“I’d see other players going to the gym and they were getting stronger and more powerful, and you know I’d be very competitive in that side of things.
“But I just had to kind of take a step back really and try to keep myself as healthy as I could for training and not be injured,” he told Kilkenny Press.
“I got huge support from the lads and wouldn’t have been able to play without their support.
In 2013/’14, it was really hard because it was one of those stages when my back kicked off, we couldn’t understand what was going on, it wasn’t settling.
“I think I lost about 9kg over those two or three months and the management and medical team could have written me off for the year.
“That because was heading to June and All-Ireland finals were at the start of September.
SHARING YOUR STORY IS IMPORTANT
“Thankfully it eventually settled down, I got medication that helped and got back playing,” he added.
Fennelly highlighted the importance of reaching out and asking for help.
“I think sharing your story with someone is important. There are people who can help, there’s no point feeling sorry for yourself and asking the question ‘why me’.”
Arthritis Ireland chief executive, Gráinne O’Leary, said AS can have an enormous physical and emotional impact on people, which can disrupt every aspect of life.
“Symptoms of AS frequently begin in younger people, as early as the teenage years or 20s, so it runs counter to the expectation that arthritis is an older person’s disease.
“Part of the complexity of the condition is that it can take years to diagnose. In fact, Irish data highlights an eight-year-delay in diagnosing AS.
“The situation is exacerbated by low levels of awareness of the condition, which is why campaigns such as this are important.
“As always, we encourage anyone who has concerns about his or her health, or is experiencing persistent pain or stiffness to seek medical advice.”
Support and information for people living with AS is available on the Arthritis Ireland website, www.arthritisireland.ie and via their helpline, 0818 252 846.