Meet Aaliyah: Living with Juvenile Arthritis

My name is Aaliyah and I am from Montreal but currently living in Toronto, Canada. I am a Physiotherapy Assistant who studied Kinesiology and Health Sciences at York University and the founder of @arthritismovement.

The reason why I chose this profession is because I grew up with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, formerly known as Rheumatoid Arthritis. So you might ask, what is that? This is the most common type of arthritis in children under the age of 16. It causes persistent joint swelling, pain, and stiffness. At the age of 8, I remember waking up in the middle of the night feeling like my bones were crushing together and not knowing what to do. At the time, children having Arthritis was uncommon and seen as growing pains. I was told " ah, she'll grow out of it!" so many times that my mother began to believe it.

One night I remember waking up to the point of screaming in pain because it was so unbearable that I couldn't walk for days. I remember my mother saying that she was not leaving the hospital, even if that meant missing elementary school until she knew what was wrong. Before finally getting a diagnosis I spent a month at the Montreal Children's Hospital and was told it was a Sickle Cell. I was poked and tested, took some medication then poked, and tested some more. After a long wait of research, I was finally told that it was Arthritis.

At a young age, I couldn't process what was really going on. I think what daunted on me the most was finally coming to the realization that this was more than what it seemed. I woke up spending my days in a hospital bed with the most activity being me going down the hall and back in a wheelchair. Eventually, I learned how to walk again and not have the need to depend on my wheelchair using movement, exercise and working with a physiotherapist. This is what inspired my career path and @arthritismovment.

Everyone has a different story but exercise was my fix and cure. Eventually, I stopped the medication and started getting more involved in sport and dance. As a Physiotherapy Assistant/Rehabilitation, I am able to help patients regain their strength after post hip and knee operations. More importantly, not only do I love to help these patients but it brings me joy seeing them get stronger each session. 

Today, I am so thankful for my story and being able to share it with others, which is my mission with @arthritismovement. My arthritis has inspired me to start The Arthritis Movement in hopes that it can connect others to shared experiences. My arthritis has inspired me to live every day and be thankful. 

Food intake has always been very important to me and one thing I knew is that if I didn't build muscle, I could potentially get Osteoarthritis. Although I knew that wasn't set and stone, my diet became very important to me. Already with me being a very skinny pre-teen, I knew that I had to take care of my body more than other people. I drank a lot of nutriment shakes, ate protein bars, took supplements like Cod liver oil, and ate foods that have shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, like sardines. 
I took care of my body by stretching every morning and I never missed a day. I applied muscle rub and a hot water bottle pad whenever my flare-ups started and checked the weather (still do) every morning because the rain caused my body to ache more. Luckily for me, I started to have fewer flare-ups. To this day, I don't exactly know what has helped me overcome Arthritis but what I do know is that stretching has helped with my mobility tremendously. Stretching not only helps increase your blood flow but it also improves circulation, increases range of motion, and is very important for injury prevention. In addition to stretching, I also do massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. 
If you or someone you know has arthritis, here are some low impact exercises/stretches that have helped me:

1. Walking*: walking allows you to stretch out your legs and helps joints from becoming stiff from inactivity. It's important to also take into account your posture by standing tall and keeping your chest high.

2. Knee-To-Chest stretch*: helps open up the hip joints and lumbar spine. Simply lie on your back bending your knee towards your chest. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Alternate with 3 sets x 10.

3. Hip Flexor Stretch*: helps open up the hip joints. Down on one knee, making sure you are maintaining a good posture, slowly begin to contract glutes while leaning forward. While controlled, hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds. Alternate. 

4. Chair Squats: make sure your knees are staying behind your toes. As you stick your bottom out slowly begin to sit back down but not fully(tip of the chair). 3 sets x 10.

5. Clamshells: ex: (right side) lie down on your right side while keeping your hips up, the left leg should be placed on top of the right leg and ankles should be together. Once in that position, slowly bring your knees to a bend then slowly open up with ankles still "glued" together. 3 sets x 10.
*note: if you are someone who has had a hip replacement, avoid any knee raises*
*note: it is important to hydrate and go at your own pace. Finding activities that you enjoy will allow you to stick with it long term*
*note: if you're uncomfortable with being on your knees, stick to knee to the chest on your back*

If you want to learn more about living with Arthritis and connect, check out the Arthritis Movement:

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