I saw my rheumatologist today – I suffer from arthritis. It really started right after little guy was born. It has settled in my neck, shoulders, clavicles, sternum and spine, but it can move around to different joints. I’m in pain all the time, but I can have “flare-ups” that are excruciating – characterized by heat, pain, swelling, and fatigue. There were days when it hurt just to breathe. Imagine feeling that way with a newborn (did I mention I threw my back out completely when he was 1 month old?) so the first few years weren’t quite what I had imagined. It required several visits to my family doctor, a physiotherapist, a massage therapist, a chiropractor, and 2 rheumatologists before we figured it all out. I was really starting to believe I was crazy!! The first rheumatologist didn’t help – he told me I was fine, that I was just a new stressed out Mom…get more rest, and join a hard core gym, not something wimpy like Curves. What?!?

Arthritis is inflammation in 1 or more joints. A joint is the area where 2 bones meet. Arthritis is basically caused by cartilage atrophy. Cartilage atrophy and subsequent arthritis can be caused by broken bones, injuries, general ‘wear and tear’ on joints, infection, and autoimmune diseases.

A Health Canada study published in 2003 indicated that 1 in 6 Canadians has some type of arthritis and 60% of them are under the age of 65. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but the most common are osteoarthritis (affecting 10% of the Canadian population), Gout (affecting 1 in 60 Canadians), and Rheumatoid arthritis (affecting about 1 in 100 people -twice as many women as men). By 2026, it’s estimated that more than 6 million Canadians older than 15 will have arthritis, up from 4 million Canadians today!

And while some careers choices, like professional athletes, make some people more prone to develop arthritis, there is no evidence that someone who is generally physically active and who has not been injured in sports is any more prone to develop arthritis than non-active people. Some forms of arthritis are clearly inherited, but most are not.

While there aren’t many things that can be done to prevent arthritis, common sense prevails…a diet rich in raw fruits and veggies, proper hydration, regular exercise, and a reduction of processed foods and caffeine.

I am fortunate to have a rheumatologist who was willing to listen and take the time to investigate. I just started a new medication to try to prevent flare-ups, or at least the length of time that they occur, so that I can function better day to day. I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, how to balance my activities so I don’t cause inflammation and I am not exhausted. So far, I’ve seen a huge improvement and I am looking forward to a better quality of life. I am looking forward to Spring – maybe I’ll get to work in my garden this year, and certainly, I plan on more play time at the park!