How Research is Giving Hope and Changing the Future of Arthritis

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This blog post was provided by Arthritis Research Canada.

Many assume arthritis is no more than aches and pains, and that it only affects older people. Being told “you’re too young to have arthritis,” or “you don’t look sick,” is all-too-common for people struggling with this invisible and debilitating disease. People with arthritis may look healthy on the outside, when in reality they’re grappling with chronic pain that is anything but “normal” on the inside.

Arthritis changes your life – from how you live to how long you live. When your body hurts from cartilage breakdown or joint inflammation, everyday tasks can seem impossible. Working, caring for young children, and staying active, all present new challenges.

At Arthritis Research Canada, our scientists work in partnership with patients to ensure our research is meaningful and helpful – practical research for everyday living. Our research is finding answers that eases pain, lessens disability and improves quality of life.

What is Arthritis?

Over 6 million Canadians, young and old, are affected by arthritis. The term is used to describe more than 100 types of diseases that affect the joints and tissues surrounding joints and other connective tissues. Most often arthritis is characterized by inflammation and can result in pain, stiffness, soreness, and reduced mobility. People with arthritis are more at risk of experiencing life-threatening complications, such as heart attacks, strokes and hip fractures. If left untreated, arthritis can lead to permanent joint damage and deformity.

There are two main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis (OA) and inflammatory arthritis (IA). Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease caused when extra strain is placed on the joints over a long period of time leading to wear and tear to the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones. Inflammatory arthritis happens when the body’s immune system misidentifies healthy tissue as harmful and starts attacking it.

Did you know?

  • Arthritis occurs most often in women. It is the number one most reported chronic condition by women and the third by men. 
  • People of ALL ages can get arthritis, including children. 
  • Arthritis is more severe and three times more common in Indigenous people. 
  • Arthritis is responsible for one in ten doctor visits and one in sixteen hospitalizations. 
  • Arthritis is the number one cause of work disability.

Helping People Triumph Over Arthritis

Arthritis Research Canada’s team of over 100 research scientists, assistants, and trainees are creating a future where people living with arthritis are empowered to triumph over pain and disability. Here are the personal stories of two inspiring individuals who are shining a spotlight on arthritis and dispelling myths associated with the disease.

How Spencer O’Brien, Canadian Olympic snowboarder and Arthritis Research Canada’s spokesperson, was able to get back on top of her game.

Spencer received the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis just three months before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. At the time, she was only 25 years old and a world champion in her sport. She first noticed aches and pains in her knees and ankles, which she attributed to a lack of stretching and old injuries. As the pain escalated, she couldn’t lift her shoulders past 90 degrees, and could barely walk down a set of stairs, or get out of bed in the morning. 

“When they told me about my diagnosis, I didn’t think in a million years I would be able to be a professional snowboarder still. It’s the dedication to the research that allows me to live this life.”  – Spencer O’Brien

Not only was Spencer able to regain her mobility, she was able to resume snowboarding and go on to be one of the best in the world. As Arthritis Research Canada’s spokesperson, Spencer hopes that by sharing her story and creating awareness about arthritis and the importance of research, she can help others.

How patient-oriented research is empowering people like Trish Silvester-Lee.

Shortly after giving birth to her son Jackson, Trish, an avid downhill skier and badminton player, was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her knee. In her early 30s and with a young son to take care of, Trish was in shock. She thought only old people got arthritis.

Told by her doctor that she would need knee replacement surgery or most likely end up in a wheelchair by the time she was 50, Trish was determined to protect her joints and learn more about osteoarthritis. She became empowered to take control of her health and joined Arthritis Research Canada’s Arthritis Patient Advisory Board, participating in multiple research studies over the years. Encouraged to be proactive in her own self-care, Trish was able to slow the progression of her knee osteoarthritis and held off her first knee replacement surgery until age 56. 

Trish states, “If these studies existed years ago, maybe I wouldn’t have osteoarthritis today. Research can help prevent other young people from going through what I have.” Today, Trish still has her mobility and she walks and exercises regularly. 

How Arthritis Research Canada is Leading Research, Finding Answers, and Saving Lives

Arthritis isn’t something ‘you have to learn to live with’. Research is giving people more hope than ever before. Stories like Trish and Spencer’s highlight the importance of arthritis research in transforming the lives of people living with this disease. Arthritis Research Canada is currently conducting over 100 research studies aimed at arthritis prevention, facilitating early diagnosis, providing new and better treatments and improved quality of life. “Although there is no cure for arthritis, we can take away pain, prevent joint deformities and the disability that comes with them,” says Dr. Diane Lacaille, Scientific Director, Arthritis Research Canada.

Learn more and make a donation in support of Arthritis Research Canada and those living with arthritis today.

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