Local support for those with osteoarthritis

Seven years ago, Pat Elmes was living in constant pain. Osteoarthritis (OA) had taken hold of the joints in both hips. According to the Arthritis Society, osteoarthritis is a progressing disease of the joint that breaks down cartilage and can affect the joint capsule, ligaments and underlying bone.  It can cause pain and swelling in the affected joint.  It used to be referred to as the “wear and tear disease” however this led people to believe they should not be physically active.  It is beneficial to keep active as the cartilage needs moderate load through physical activity in order to regenerate itself.  There is no cure for OA; managing the symptoms and improving function is achievable through neuromuscular strengthening and proper loading activities.

Pat’s pain was so severe, she could only walk very short distances by using a cane; simple, everyday chores like getting groceries was a task that her husband had to take over as Pat was no longer able to walk around the store. In her own words, Pat said she felt like an “invalid” and her husband had to take care of her. It was not the life she expected. Pat eventually had both hips replaced through invasive surgeries.

“The GLA:D program has changed my whole way of life.”

Within a few years, Pat’s knee was struck by OA as well; she is now facing yet another surgery. As part of the preparation, her family doctor referred her to the Leduc Beaumont Devon Primary Care Network (PCN) to see a registered dietitian. During their initial appointment in December, the dietitian recommended Pat enter an 8-week program that was new to the PCN called GLA:D Canada, which is based on the successful GLA:D (Good Life with osteoArthritis in Denmark) program and focuses on education and exercise for knee and hip OA. GLA:D is an 8-week education and exercise program for those with osteoarthritis of the knees and/or hips. Taught by the PCN Exercise Specialist and held at the Leduc Recreation Centre, the program is open to anyone who has an LBD PCN family physician and is accessed through a referral. There is a nominal fee to attend. During the 8-week program, participants will learn about osteoarthritis, the risk factors and symptoms, treatments available and how to manage symptoms.  They will learn strategies on how to cope with the difficulties of living with osteoarthritis. Participants will then be led through twice-weekly exercise sessions where they will learn how to control movements through proper alignment and build muscle strength around the joints through neuromuscular exercise.  There are specific stations they will work through to increase function, strength, mobility and core strength.  Most patients will see an improvement in at least mobility and/or strength and an improved quality of life after completing the 8-week program.

“I want all the doctors and surgeons to know about this program.”

The program was starting in January and Pat was accepted as a participant in the first group. Through the program, which is facilitated by the LBD PCN exercise specialist, Corinne, Pat and the other participants were provided with group education on OA along with going through the specific exercise stations. The program works on building the muscle up to support the joint and working on building core strength for improved posture and alignment, all essential to improved function and mobility. After living with the pain of OA for year, Pat thought that sounded too good to be true but this past week, she came to the LRC to talk to the second group of GLA:D participants about the “tremendous difference” the program has made in her life. “The education part is huge, to understand why this works really resonated with me. I couldn’t believe exercise could do this.”

“The GLA:D program has changed my whole way of life,” Pat told the group during one of their education sessions. Pat enthusiastically demonstrated how fast she can walk now, without a cane and without pain. Prior to the GLA:D program, Pat said her daily pain level was around a 5 or 6, depending on the day. Now she says she’s between 0-3, depending on how much exercise she’s done. “I cannot believe attending the GLA:D program is not a requirement before having surgery,” she says, astonished.

When Pat had her hip surgeries, she was recommended to see a physiotherapist at the hip and knee clinic in Edmonton but the long drive into the city (Pat lives in Leduc County) made it hard to go. “There, they always told me to ‘walk through the pain’, but that’s not possible! The physiotherapist there is not nearly as knowledgeable as Corinne,” Pat says, referring to the specialized education the PCN exercise specialist has obtained through GLA:D training. “Having this program offered locally is fabulous.”

Through partnership with the LRC, the PCN exercise specialist offers the educations sessions in one of the LRC meeting rooms and then takes the participants through the exercise stations.  A bonus to being at the LRC is being able to use the equipment in the fitness centre as well as use of the indoor walking track. The LRC recently decided to offer free access to the facility to those 60 years of age and over on weekday afternoons, which makes continuing attending the gym for Pat and other GLA:D participants a non-issue.

Pat was excited to tell the group, “I tell no less than 100 people a day about this program. I want all the doctors and surgeons to know about this program.”

If you would like to be referred to the GLA:D Canada program, please talk to your PCN family doctor. 

Candra Tinis
Communications Advisor
Leduc Beaumont Devon Primary Care Network