Victoria Phan can still remember the smell of the leather chair she was sitting on. Alone in a dimly lit office, she was patiently waiting for her results. All she could hear was the sound of a clicking pen.
The person holding that pen was the third specialist she had seen about her chronic pain in just six months. That person would also be the one to finally diagnose her: She would have to deal with arthritis in her neck for the rest of her life.
“I was shocked but also relieved, all at the same time,” said Phan, 25, of East York. “All I remember doing is picking up the phone in a panic, trying to call my mother right away. I felt like breaking down crying. I mean, I always knew that my pain was not normal. I would wake up every morning enduring tightness and stiffness in my spine area. Some days it became unbearable. But arthritis? I didn’t think somebody my age could even have it this early.”
The Arthritis Foundation estimates that 54 million people in the world suffer from doctor-diagnosed arthritis. That number, it estimates, will rise to 78 million by 2040.
Around half of those currently diagnosed are over 65. It is not common for someone as young as Phan to have it, but it is also not unheard of.
There are many ways to manage the pain, Phan’s doctor told her, but there is no cure for arthritis.
“When I heard him say that, I didn’t know what to think,” Phan said. “I was just scared to think that this would be my life forever.”
Chiropractor Dr. Andrew Stillo, who runs the Andrew Stillo Chiropractic Clinic, has not had many young patients with arthritis, but said that it could be easier for someone younger to follow the steps to reduce the pain.
“The best way to try to reduce arthritis is to exercise, and obviously someone who is older is more susceptible to arthritis because of wear and tear,” Stillo said. “The body gets weaker and it’s easier to injure yourself.”
Stillo also prides himself on recommending a more natural route to the cases he does see in the early stages of arthritis. The key, he believes, is finding a consistent routine, which will help relieve not only the body but also the mind.
“I usually encourage exercising,” he said. “I just believe you’re helping to cure not only the joint inflammation throughout the body, but also the most important organ in the entire body. The mind is often forgotten about and can help relive the pain in other areas.”
Since her diagnosis about a year ago, Phan has learned to accept the news that once terrified her. She is following exercises that were recommended by her doctors, and she is going to chiropractic appointments at least once a month.
“The pain is still there, but I have a more positive outlook on it now,” Phan said.
“I am just thankful it is something I can manage with exercise and massages, and my back stretcher helps a lot.”