Coach K Shoots and Scores Against Osteoarthritis
The legendary men’s basketball coach for Duke University talks about the debilitating pain that almost benched his career.
By Nancie George
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Now in his 34th season as head coach of the men’s college basketball team at Duke University in Durham, N.C., Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski knows how to conquer an opponent. But the most winningest coach in college basketball history almost benched his own career because of hip-related osteoarthritis.
Commonly known as the “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage meant to protect the bones wears down over time. It’s also the most common cause of hip joint damage.
Coach K, 67, who also coached the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Gold Medal winning teams, is one of the 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis.
Coaching From a Chair
“In 1998, I started to feel a lot of groin pain and [it] got severe. I went in and knew it was a hip problem, but I didn’t take care of it right away, I thought I could manage the pain,” he said.
After grappling with debilitating pain and reduced mobility, he finally made the decision to have his left hip replaced after the season finished. “And soon as I got my hip replaced, the pain was gone and then I rehabbed and got my movement back, and then all of a sudden you have a new lease on life which is terrific,” he said.
The success of his hip replacement surgery didn’t go unnoticed by his players either.
“Well, everyone noticed a difference in me after the surgery. Literally, I couldn’t teach on the court towards the end of that  season. I sat on a stool and I wasn’t able to have hands-on instruction, and your mood’s not good. You’re fighting that all the time. It’s difficult to fight anything else.”
A Second Hip Replacement
A few years after the first surgery, Coach K realized his fight against hip-related osteoarthritis wasn’t over. “My doc said, ‘You’re bone on bone,’ ” he recalled. Because of his previous successful hip replacement surgery, Coach K knew he had to quickly take care of his right hip. Now, 13 years after having his right hip replaced, he has become an advocate for people with arthritis.
“It gives you back your movement, your energy, and keeps you going in your career,” he said. “I would have had to stop coaching if I didn’t get my hips reconstructed.”
After the surgeries, Coach K was able to get back to leading an active and healthy life with his family. “My family was happy, I was a happier guy to live with, and also people don’t want to hear you always complain about pain … I tried not to complain but you do, you do.”
Now, pain-free, the coach and his family have new (and better) things to complain about. “And then all of a sudden there is no pain, so the only thing you complain about then is, you know, you put my TV channel on not yours … why are you eating all the food and I’m not getting any of it … why aren’t we doing my activity today. Those are good things to argue about, not about pain.”
Stretches, Weights, and Walks on the Beach
Coach K still does some of the he learned after his surgery in rehab, including leg extensions and other weight-bearing exercises about three times a week. “I do a little bit of weight [training] to keep my legs strong — or as strong as a 67-year-old-guy needs to keep his legs to keep being a basketball coach from a school and on the national team.”
RELATED: 3 Things Arthritis Patients Wish Their Docs Would Do
The popular coach said he also tries to eat right, get enough sleep, and stay in shape so he can continue with his philanthropic work as well.
“I’m not a runner anymore. A recumbent bike is a big thing for me, and I do a lot of walking and especially if I get an opportunity to go down to the beach. I love walking the beaches.”
He also makes an effort to stretch with the during the season. “I’m lucky because my occupation affords me an opportunity to be around guys who want to stay active and want to be in shape and also the equipment. It’s easier for me. But you know that it’s necessary for everybody,” he said.
Giving Back to Others
After two successful hip surgeries, Coach K regained his mobility and is even going on to serve as head coach of the 2019 U.S. National team.
Coach K, who is a paid consultant for a prosthetic joint company with which he works on an awareness campaign, urges people with similar symptoms to talk to their doctor.
“The very first thing is to get professional care, get advice,” he said.
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