A sudden onset of arthritic pain led Jane to seek a chiropractor, who helped her get back to biking, walking, and even interval training.
“I never thought I had or could have arthritis because you don’t want to think you’re getting old!”. Jane, a patient with spinal stenosis reflects on learning her diagnosis after years of leg and back pain.
For 40 years, Jane worked with visual artists and then managed a modern dance company. This means that she sat for long periods of time and worked from the office. “I went into the arts to avoid this, but here I am,” she says. Since 2000, she’s been working as an arts consultant with ARTS Action Research. “The arts are central to my life,” she says.
Sudden Onset of Pain
However, about 15 years ago, Jane began experiencing pain in one knee. She sensed that something was “not quite right”, especially when her leg began to swell.
“The pain wasn’t excruciating, but my leg muscles were very tense,” she says. “Eventually, my knees became ‘bowlegged’. I found it difficult to walk because of this pain.”
The sudden onset of her back pain is what led Jane to seek a health care professional, including her family doctor, physiotherapist, and chiropractor.
“I would call a dancer and ask, ‘who’s a good chiropractor?’,” Jane says. “Dance is a ‘punishing profession for the body’, so chiropractors are very important to dancers to keep their body in shape and healthy to continue moving.”
One of the dancers recommended Jane to visit ‘The Al & Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre (Toronto Artists’ Health Centre)’ at Toronto Western Hospital, which provides care specifically to dancers and artists. There, she had several tests done on her spine and was officially diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
“When I heard I had ‘moderate to severe’ arthritis, I was shocked,” Jane says. “I just thought I was getting old.”
Arthritis is the most prevalent long-term health condition in Canada, affecting approximately 20 per cent of the population1. It encompasses over 100 diseases and is characterized by inflammation in the joints or other areas of the body such as the hip, knee, or spine2. The number of people living with arthritis in Canada is expected to increase by 3 million by 20403.
Over half of those living with arthritis are under the age of 65 and the onset of arthritis varies depending on the type4. Due to its propensity to affect multiple joints of the body, a significant proportion of people living with arthritis report difficulties with mobility and activities of daily living such as doing housework and running errands.
Through the artists’ health centre at Toronto Western Hospital, Jane began doing online exercises. She also continued to see a variety of specialists to help her keep moving.
Despite its prevalence, finding the right care for arthritis is a challenge for many patients for many reasons. Oftentimes, its early signs and symptoms can mimic those of other diseases. Because there are many forms of arthritis and the condition has the potential to affect multiple joints in the body, treatment must be tailored and individualized to the patient’s specific needs4. Typically, patients begin by seeing their family doctor or a rheumatologist5.
Chiropractic Care to Manage Arthritis Pain
Jane’s breakthrough moment came when she heard about a “spinal stenosis bootcamp” at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “My regular chiropractor first mentioned it to me, and I said to myself, ‘this could be good’”, says Jane.
Jane completed the clinic’s bootcamp under the care of chiropractor Dr. Aksa Ahmed. “Her hands-on technique was incredible,” Jane says. “She was also very knowledgeable in arthritis and spinal stenosis, which alone gave me a sense of relief.”
At the Chiropractic Spine Clinic and Spinal Stenosis Program at the Rebecca MacDonald Centre for Arthritis & Autoimmune Diseases at Mount Sinai Hospital, Dr. Ahmed takes an individualized approach to supporting patients with various conditions, including degenerative disc/joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, spinal stenosis, and spondyloarthropathies and radiculopathies. Chiropractic treatment for chronic conditions typically involves a combination of manual therapy and exercises, education and self-management strategies, and coping strategies, such as mindfulness meditation and guided imagery to help patients manage the stress and anxiety that can come with their diagnosis.
“Once a patient is diagnosed with arthritis, they will often get seen by a variety of specialists, including rheumatologists, family doctors, and neurologists,” says Dr. Ahmed. “Unfortunately, chiropractors are often left out of this circle of care. This presents a huge gap in our health care system because chiropractors are trained to be able to work alongside other health care professionals to treat patients with arthritis. It is one more tool in a patient’s toolbox to consider when searching for the best possible care to help manage their pain and improve the functional limitations that can come about from a condition like arthritis.”
However, the minute Jane started to feel good, she was up and running. “I’m one of those awful people; a chiropractor’s worst nightmare, really.” One day, she realized she took it too far.
“I decided to bike to my allotment garden to get it ready for winter, clean my apartment, and do a lot more all in one day, and I paid for it,” she says. “My back pain became excruciating, to the point that lying down on the bed and getting up was impossible. I wasn’t able to sleep for weeks.”
This led her to see Dr. Ahmed more frequently for the next little while.
“I don’t even want to think about where I would be if it wasn’t for Dr. Ahmed,” Jane says. “Today, I can bike, walk, and even do interval training.”
Chiropractic care is a patient-centred, non-invasive, hands-on, regulated health care profession focused on the spine, muscles, joints, and nervous system. Chiropractors use the best available evidence and clinical expertise to diagnose issues that affect the body’s movement, including back and neck pain, strains, work and sports injuries, and pain associated with arthritis. Chiropractic care is the primary method of treatment for many medical conditions, such as low back pain. Chiropractors are trained to help patients manage the pain and functional limitations associated with arthritis by using a combination of manual therapy, exercise prescription and self-management strategies.
Including Chiropractic in a Patient’s Circle of Care
“Arthritis is a complex medical condition for two reasons: It’s chronic and there’s no cure,” says Dr. Ahmed. “As our population ages, there’s no better time for chiropractors to play an active role in a patient’s circle of care and work alongside rheumatologists and other specialists to ensure the best outcomes for patients. It’s important to empower patients with viable, evidence-based options, such as chiropractic care to discuss with their specialists.”
“There’s not enough available knowledge about arthritis and the specialists that can help treat it,” Jane says. “I think it would be helpful if doctors’ offices included specialists like chiropractors and operated as one to help increase access to care. In my work with artists, we hold an ecological and systems perspective, in that everyone is connected each other. There are so many benefits to an integrated system, including health care.”
When in pain, Jane encourages people to find a chiropractor that they feel comfortable with and can trust.
“I think a lot of people have an outdated perception of chiropractors,” Jane says. “The hands-on therapy is not intrusive. My exercises and stretches really contributed to my ability to walk with ease today. Chiropractic care can bring your life back and allow you to do things you once had to stop due to pain.”
For more information on how chiropractors can help, visit Help to Manage Your Arthritis.
1 Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU) for the Arthritis Society. (2019). Status of Arthritis in Canada – based on an analysis of Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2015-17.
2 Arthritis Society. About Arthritis – What is Arthritis?
3, 4 Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU) for the Arthritis Society. (2019). Status of Arthritis in Canada – based on an analysis of Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2015-17.
5, 6 Arthritis Society. Treatment & Prevention.
Originally posted by Ontario Chiropractic Association