Back Pain Breakthrough
Aki Tanaka

Aki Tanaka gave up gardening when her back pain became too severe. Now that her pain has improved, she’s back to doing what she loves.​

Nearly everyone feels back pain at some point, with many experiencing chronic pain. Krembil Research Institute researchers hope that new tools and tests can alleviate, if not eliminate, the suffering

ABOUT SIX YEARS AGO, Aki Tanaka felt her first pangs of back pain. It was intermittent at first, with water aerobics, Pilates and visits to physiotherapists helping to keep the pain at bay. Over the next few years, though, things worsened. By 2016, she needed a walker and had to bend forward slightly when she moved. If she stood for too long, she’d feel a stabbing pain in her back and especially down her leg. Tanaka also had to give up her job as an engineer at a non-profit organization and said goodbye to gardening, her passion. She couldn’t even help her university-aged sons settle into their new homes. “There was a lot of lying down,” she says. “I was in my sixties, but my life was like I was in my eighties. It felt like my life had been stolen from me.”

Then, in the fall of 2016, a breakthrough. She was referred to the Inter-professional Spine Assessment and Education Clinic (now called the Rapid Assessment Clinic), which was launched in 2012 by a team at UHN led by Dr. Raja Rampersaud, an orthopedic surgeon and clinician investigator at Krembil, to help pain sufferers get assessed and treated faster. After several tests, she finally received a long-awaited diagnosis: osteoarthritis (OA) and spondylolisthesis in the lower back. One of the vertebrae in Tanaka’s spine had slipped over the bone below it, which made her spine unstable and pinched her nerves.

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