Alternative Approaches to Spinal Arthritis: Diet, Exercise and Supplements

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by patient expert Pattye Snyder.

For the last 15 years, since my official diagnosis with OA, I've been "blessed" with several surgeries and nine artificial joints. This hasn't been fun, but it also hasn't limited my activities long-term. I've still been able to continue my life as a photo-journalist and also volunteer in many countries and continents. In fact, I was even able to climb half of Mt. Kilimanjaro for the second time last January. (Gee, since I last looked, ½ + ½=1. Does that mean I can now say I've climbed ALL of K2?) I also was hired by a special foundation in Cape Town to photograph endangered species high in the mountains and rainforests of Madagascar in February of 2011 - for me, the thrill of a life-time To "shoot" Sifakas, Indri, and nine of the endangered species of Lemurs was awesome.

Unfortunately, it was necessary for me to return to America suddenly two months later due to new (and excruciating) back pain. After visits to my internist, a neurologist, and two orthopedic surgeons, in addition to the many tests including x-rays and a CAT scan, I was told that no surgery would help due to the massive OA, disk deterioration, ad infinitum. They recommended vast amounts of prescribed narcotics although I'd never used that kind of pain killer. Reluctantly I agreed.

After two months of being "drugged," falling frequently, and feeling totally "out of it," I begged the neurologist to go without the meds, in spite of my doctors' warnings of the return of intense pain. I've now been totally off all pain meds for about three months. Yes, I'm in pain, but at least I feel more in control, and haven't fallen since!

More recently, I was admitted to a pain clinic for a series of spinal injections which are definitely NOT a permanent cure, but did help the pain level, but these can only be taken every six months. I also was given exercises with a physical therapist. I now have returned to our awesome fitness center, which has a warm water pool designed just for arthritis patients. I've found that I feel the best by doing my special water exercises every other day. I'll admit that at first, I tried every day, but this radically increased my pain level. I'm also looking into non-traditional healing. I do realize that I'll never be "cured," but I also accept the fact that there are some people, some foods, and some other things that seem to help me! For example for Christmas, my family contacted a company called Contour Living and ordered a coccyx pillow (Freedom Seat) that had been recommended by my PT. I also was given a special back cushion called a Freedom Back which not only helps support my back, but also takes some of the pressure off the parts of my back that have caused stiff muscles and pain.

I've been taking Glucosamine Chondroitin for many years. My pharmacist recently suggested I try Trigosamine instead - it is reported to be more effective to "lubricate joints, relieve pain, and build the joints;" I'll give a follow-up after I've tried it for awhile. I've used Bromelain (500mgs), a pineapple enzyme as needed to help heal my frequent bruising. I discovered, through a nutritionist, that if I use the 1500mg dosage instead (when needed), it not only helps with bruising but is an anti-inflammatory for my back.

I've always been fairly conscientious about my diet, but have lost over 40 pounds by learning to eat a little differently from Africa. I eat fish, fresh vegetables and fresh fruits, some grains, nuts and eggs. There are some healing foods that I'm learning to increase in my diet, including dark leafy greens, Greek yogurt, most legumes, and of course, more fish and nuts.

I'm also trying very hard NOT to be a work-aholic. During the holidays, my custom cooking company was incredibly busy (for which I'm grateful); however, I also paid for it with a major increase in pain level! I guess, I WAS just taking many things for granted.

As my Tanzanian friends kept saying, "Mama P - you're like a used car: you have health problems, you go to America and get new body parts, then return to your adopted home in Africa!" The pattern for me really was like that - a joint fell apart, I had it replaced, then returned to Africa. That WAS the good news, but with my onset of severe back problems, my life changed rather suddenly. My life has changed again, and this time, for the better. I do know that I have SOME limitations, but I also have a new attitude - I'm being pro-active in my health. I probably will be unable to return to Africa due to the long flights, but I can finally begin photographing many more things in the US on shorter trips, such as the upcoming sandhill crane migrations. I'm working with a publisher to finally complete my two books as well. I'm incredibly greatful for all of the help and suggestions from my very special friends. My life continues to follow my philosophy: I Have Arthritis, It Doesn't Have Me - WATCH ME!

A favorite Masaii saying, "People will come and go in your life, but only true friends can make footprints in your heart."

Asante Sana for all of those footprints,