Dr. Rampersaud
Dr. Raja Rampersaud says identifying axial spondyloarthritis in patients early can help prevent devastating impacts and side effects. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

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.

Aki 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 60s, but my life was like I was in my 80s.

"It felt like my life had been stolen from me."

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. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

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 Research Institute, 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 Aki's spine had slipped over the bone below it, which made her spine unstable and pinched her nerves.

Doctors think age and osteoarthritis caused the muscles supporting the spine to wear down, allowing the disc to slip. In 2017, Dr. Rampersaud surgically stabilized her spine, and Aki soon started feeling like her old self again.

"By about a year, I thought, 'Wow, this is pretty good,'" she recalls.

Krembil Magazine Volume IV - 2018 

Krembil Research Arthritis Magazine featured in The Globe and Mail.

There are six million Canadians currently living with arthritis. The Krembil Research Institute has teamed up with The Globe and Mail on a special project to highlight the groundbreaking research and clinical advancements happening within UHN’s Arthritis Program, at Krembil. Inside this issue, you’ll learn how our dedicated scientists and clinicians are developing innovative techniques and technologies and pioneering new discoveries to help patients prevent, treat and recover from arthritis. The Arthritis Magazine, 2019 edition is now available online.

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