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20/Jan/2020

How we discovered Sam had arthritis

My son Sam is now 18 years old. He was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) just after his 13th birthday.

Seeing your previously healthy and sport-loving son crawling down the hall just to get to the bathroom is heartbreaking. The impact on our whole family was enormous. You just can’t imagine the changes you suddenly have to make. One minute we were dealing with all the normal teenage activities and the next we had an occupational therapist talking to us about putting grab rails and mobility aids through our house. The whole future you envisage for your child changes in a split second.

Sam complained for a few weeks of sore knees but like most mum’s vying for that “Mum of the Year trophy” I pretty much ignored him, figuring it was too much sport or growing pains or something along those lines.

It was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and he had a weekend off sport so I thought ok, this will give his knees a rest and a chance to settle down and everything will be fine. We went for a short walk as a family on the Sunday and after about ten minutes he said to me “Mum, I can’t walk anymore, my knees are killing me”. We headed home where he lay down on the couch and after an hour or so he got up and discovered that it wasn’t just his knees anymore, the pain had now spread to his ankles and hips.

The next morning I took him up to our GP who ran a range of blood tests and told me she wanted to see him again on the Friday but if it got worse before then, to take him to the ER. On Wednesday morning he woke up and the pain had also moved to his wrists, shoulders and elbows. We headed out to the Monash Hospital where we began what would be a long relationship with the wonderful paediatric rheumatology team there.

Sam was officially diagnosed with JIA two weeks later and started on methotrexate that day. His pain got worse and worse and he was admitted to the hospital for a week for further testing. After ruling out a lot of other nasties, he was eventually diagnosed as having pain amplification syndrome (PAS) also known as amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome (AMPS).

To be honest, this floored me more than the diagnosis of JIA. I really felt that they didn’t know what he had, so they were just pulling something out of thin air! The PAS was harder to deal with in many ways than the JIA. With JIA I felt we had a well-trodden path to follow whilst with the PAS it felt very hit and miss.

We saw a pain specialist through Monash and Sam was put on a lot of different drugs with various success. Eventually we found some websites and read a lot of information on pain and educated ourselves about what pain is and the importance of movement. Sam did a lot of hydrotherapy and got moving and strengthening his body once again and slowly we began to see improvement.

Sam missed the majority of the second half of year 8 and a similar amount of year 9 before finally finding the right combination of medications that worked for him. The burden of the pain was enormous but missing out on school, playing sport and contact with his friends was even harder. The medication he was on also made him put on a lot of weight and some of the kids at school could be cruel.

I was no longer able to work as Sam needed my support at home for both his day to day care as well as his multiple appointments so I approached Musculoskeletal Australia about volunteering half a day per week. To be honest it also gave me a much needed break from the stresses of suddenly becoming a full time carer! I started working on the Help Line which not only gave me vital information about JIA but gave me access to a knowledgeable nurse as well as a number of other volunteers who could share their own stories with me.

Along with a great rheumatology team and the correct medications, Sam works hard on his fitness to ensure he remains well enough to do the things he wants to do. He also needs to pace himself which, like many teenagers, he does with varying degrees of success! Although he still has challenges that other teenagers just can’t imagine, he’s now studying full time at Uni, has a part time job and is able to participate fully in life – just as any 18 year old should be doing.

On a side note – I’m now working at MSK Australia 3 days a week running the MSK Kids program. It’s a program I love and am very passionate about. You can contact me about MSK Kids Tuesdays-Thursdays on 8531 8039 (1800 263 265) or buffy@msk.org.au


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02/Aug/2018

Written by Thalia Salt

My name’s Thalia and I’m twelve years old. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis when I was five years old, which was caused by a joint infection in my left hip when I was ten months old. I like to sing and act, and I love hanging out with my friends after school.

Living with arthritis from such a young age is hard, but it has some advantages. I’ve been finding different ways to cope for my whole life, which means I have some quite effective strategies up my sleeve. But there are many things that aren’t so great. I learned to walk with arthritis, so my gait was awkward. I don’t know what it’s like to have no pain, and sometimes when I do have lots of pain my body tunes out of it until it’s unbearable.

The arthritis has also gotten in the way of my life outside of school activities. I have to sit down when I sing, and I’ve had to do several performances in my wheelchair. When I’m with my friends, we have to limit our activity accordingly. I haven’t been able to participate fully at school and have had to resort to a mobilised scooter in the past just to get around.

This story has a happy ending though. In June 2017, I had a total hip replacement. Since then, I‘ve been walking up to 3km, running, getting around school without my walking aids. I’ve also been swimming and riding my bicycle.

Something else that’s changed is the amount of medication I’m taking. Before, I was taking a large range of medications, including some very strong painkillers. Now I take hardly any medication. My personal lifestyle has also been greatly altered. I’ve been able to move around the house freely, participate in my outside of school activities like any other person, although I’m still not up to standing up for more than a few minutes. I’ve been discharged from the physiotherapist and have started to see a personal trainer.

In the future, I should be able to participate in P.E. at school, stand up for as long as I like, walk around my neighbourhood with my friends after school. I should have no pain, which is something that I’ve not experienced before. I can’t wait to go to the beach without my crutches and being able to do whatever I want when I get there, without worrying about the consequences.

My top 5 pain management tips

  1. Heat packs. Something that affected me a lot was the cold in the dead of winter. A heat pack when relaxing can often ease the pain, particularly when I go to sleep.
  2. Crutches. These help take the stress off your joints. Obviously this only works for pain in your legs.
  3. Reducing movement before a large amount of exercise. If I know that I’m going to participate in an activity that requires a lot of physical movement, I’ll take it easy for a few days, as if I’m “saving” the soreness for later.
  4. Not constantly being on all the meds. That way, when you’re in a lot of pain you have something you can take.
  5. Stretch constantly. I know that maintaining the right amount of exercising and protecting your joint is hard, but a large cause of pain is stiffness from not moving enough. So, you need to stretch. A lot.

Our guest blogger

Thalia is a positive ambassador for young people living with arthritis and chronic pain.

She’s worked tirelessly to raise the profile of arthritis in young people and how it affects them. She’s held fundraising events, received many awards, created a Facebook page, a vlog on YouTube about her surgery and much more.




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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