Billie Jean says so. Really?

Sir William Osler, former professor of medicine at McGill and John Hopkins Universities once remarked, “A doctor does not fully understand a disease until he suffers from it.” Due to a recent illness I couldn’t agree more.

During Arthritis Month, I wrote a column about osteoarthritis, how it is possible to decrease the risk by losing weight, taking Vitamin C to manufacture collagen, the major component of cartilage and using your two legs to pump nutrients into damaged cartilage.

It’s ironic that a few weeks later I suddenly developed increased pain in one hip. Then one morning I could hardly walk, even with the help of a cane. Osler was right. You have to experience pain to know how crippling and soul destroying it can be.

I believed that time and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs would cure me. I was wrong. Finally, I consulted an orthopedic surgeon who wondered if I’d suffered an undetected fracture after a recent fall during a trip, or possibly had a bone malignancy. But tests showed osteoarthritis, not enough for a hip replacement.

While this was going on I noticed an ad on TV during the U.S. Open tennis matches. Former tennis star Billie Jean King was stating authoritatively that playing tennis can fight pain. That’s a very misleading remark. If Billie Jean had handed me the racket a few weeks ago and told me to play tennis to relieve pain, I might have said some unladylike things to her.

What she didn’t acknowledge to viewers were her two knee replacements. I’d bet she wasn’t hitting tennis balls before surgery relieved her agony. I totally agree that exercise can help decrease the risk of arthritis. But once acute pain strikes, patients are unable to exercise. The pain is simply too severe. Osler knew that, and so do I.

Moreover, there aren’t a lot of options to relieve arthritic pain. I found anti-inflammatory drugs of no help. Neither were a couple of drinks at 5 p.m. But at least these made me happier.

So what to do? Since I wanted to return to my office I once again relied on Dr. Fred Kahn, founder of Meditech in Toronto, and a pioneer in the use of low intensity laser therapy (LILT). Several years ago this treatment gradually eased spinal pain and saved me from surgery when I suffered a ruptured disk.

LILT is now used to treat a number of conditions such as chronic and acute back pain, sciatica, tender joints due to arthritis or injury and other orthopedic conditions. I’m convinced this non-invasive therapy can spare many patients from the surgeon’s scalpel.

How does low intensity laser therapy work? Dr. Kahn says, “LILT gives a jump start to the body’s natural healing process. It delivers energy to the tissues that is then transformed into biochemical energy. This decreases swelling, accelerates healing and increases the pain threshold. LILT also triggers the release of endorphins, morphine-like substances that inhibit pain sensation. It also increases cortisol, the forerunner of cortisone and angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels.”

So what was the result of my call? I limped with difficulty to Dr. Kahn’s clinic in downtown Toronto for several days. But pain continued and I began to wonder if this time LILT would fail. Dr. Kahn, however, is a very persuasive physician. He urged me to continue. By his 12th treatment, pain began to subside and I was able to discard my cane. Now I’m back to work.

Today, arthritis is the leading cause of disability affecting 50 million North Americans. I don’t know how many of these sufferers could be helped by LILT as no therapy cures everyone. But it is non-invasive, does no harm, and I’ve seen many patients helped by it. And the sooner osteoarthritis and other painful conditions are treated, the better the result.

LILT is not available in all parts of the country and unfortunately treatment is not covered by government health plans. For more information call 416-916-8125. Dr. Kahn’s staff may be able to direct you to a clinic near you.

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