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Reflecting on Arthritis Awareness Month

By David Chilton
Special to The Sun

September is Arthritis Awareness Month. But before dismissing the disease as something old people must learn to put up with, it's worth reflecting that arthritis can affect anyone at any age at any time.
Christina Scicluna and John Fleming, CEO and president of The Arthritis Society.

Ask Christina Scicluna, who's 23 and started to display the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis at 15. Now the communications co-ordinator for the Arthritis Society in Toronto, Scicluna says it took two years for doctors to diagnose what ailed her. At 17 she was finally told the pain, the swollen joints, the fatigue, the immobility, were all caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

"I was in lots of pain and had no answers," says Scicluna, who was running out of treatment options and started to get depressed. Now she takes Humira, a so-called "biologic" drug that keeps her rheumatoid arthritis under control along with the help of her self-management plan.

Self-management is crucial for the arthritis sufferer, says Danielle McCormack, a physiotherapist who works exclusively for the Arthritis Society. "What our mandate is, is to assess and provide treatment plans and education to clients with arthritis, all kinds of arthritis," McCormack says. "So we do a lot of clinic work. We have sites where people come to see us. I have a lot of community work myself. In the downtown core there a quite a few people who are housebound that I have to go see."
Arthritis sufferer

The two best known types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, although there are more than 100 diseases and conditions, including gout and lupus, that fall under the heading of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is degenerative condition that affects the cartilage and the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is entirely different. It's an immune system disease that doesn't just cause swollen joints, but also causes fatigue, weight loss and decreased appetite, among a number of other things.

McCormack says there are two ways for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to deal with their condition. In the last several years there have been "great" medications for the disease prescribed by doctors, and then there are allied health professional such as herself. "While there is swelling and pain, we try to support everything around the joint so it doesn't get damaged," McCormack says. "There's a lot of 'splinting' for wrists and hands; there's a lot of balancing rest and activity. For us, it's educating (patients) about this kind of balance."
  • There are more than 100 types of arthritis.
  • Anyone at any time can develop arthritis.
  • Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition; rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the immune system.
  • The cost of arthritis in Canada is estimated at $4.4 billion annually.
  • 1.7 million people in Ontario aged 15 or older have arthritis.

  • The treatment of osteoarthritis involves medication for pain, exercise and weight loss if appropriate, McCormack says. The exercises are designed to keep the affected joint or joints moving, she continues, with some patients having sets of eight to 12 exercises a day to complete. At least some of them can be done in water, an excellent environment for the arthritis sufferer. McCormack says the buoyancy of the water in a swimming pool decreases weight bearing for the patient nine-fold.

    Lose excess weight

    She also counsels overweight patients to lose the excess since one extra pound can add quickly add up to tens of thousands of pounds of extra pressure on a joint.

    For anyone with arthritis who wants to embark on a self-management program, McCormack suggests contacting the Arthritis Society. It offers a six-week program that was designed by a nurse in California. The once-a-week instruction is free, although there's a $35 book to buy.

    For more information there's a toll-free information line -- 1-800-321-1433 -- and the society's website at

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