Richard Warden talks about his journey to diagnosis in the 1960s and how he has learnt to manage the pain over the last 50 years.

Richard started to experience axial spondyloarthritis symptoms at 18 but didn’t receive a diagnosis until he was 23. In this blog, he shares his journey to diagnosis and how he has learnt to manage his pain over the last 50 years.

When I was 17, I was cycling 400 miles a week and doing heavy-weight workouts four times a week. After getting married at 18, I was accepted into the Fire Service, and it was when I started training that I noticed an unusual sensation in my lower back and my right leg.

During the third week of training, I was on the outside of the training tower using a hook ladder when I suddenly could not move. Two of my colleagues came up the tower and helped me back inside. I went to the local hospital where I was examined and sent home.

Then the pain started again, mainly during the night. I would wake up not able to get any relief from the agonising pain which would get me staggering round my parents’ house and eventually falling asleep in a chair.

I was sent back to the hospital on numerous occasions, over a 3-month period, where I would wake up in unbearable pain but by the time I arrived at the hospital, all the symptoms and pain would suddenly vanish. On one of my visits, the doctor accused me of being a time waster! I left the hospital feeling lost. By this stage I had gone from a super fit young man weighing twelve and a half stone, to a very broken, withdrawn person weighing just under nine stone.

Richard Warden is 1964

At the age of 23, I visited my GP and was seen by a locum doctor who had worked at the local radiology department. She immediately said it was axial spondyloarthritis (AS), which I had never heard of. This was in 1968.

She referred me to the radiology department where I had a lot of deep x-ray therapy* on my back and hips. Over  the next year, I was very sick and experienced breathlessness as part of the side effects of the therapy. However, within two years all the pain had subsided. I put on weight and my confidence grew. I felt like a new person! Our family grew in the next few years as my wife, and I welcomed our daughter and our son.

Over the last 50 years, I have occasionally experienced some symptoms, but I am able to manage the pain. Now at 77 years old, I am retired but still very active and most days I spend at least an hour and half exercising which includes a step machine, rowing machine and weights.

I am forever grateful to the locum doctor who diagnosed me after years of living in excruciating pain. She probably saved my life.

* X-ray therapy is no longer used to treat axial SpA

Recent image of Richard Warden