Paula Abdul’s Joyful Outlook Keeps Her Dancing Past the Pain

Paula Abdul dances with intensity, energy and joy, and sometimes with pain. Years of dancing that led to her rise to stardom also have led to osteoarthritis (OA).

“I put my body through so much, doing choreography and putting my body into positions that aren’t normal, or jumping off of stages,” says Paula, who also has rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Hard Knocks
Adding to the strain on her body from her high-energy performances are injuries from several accidents over the years, including an incident during her Spellbound album tour in the early 1990s when the plane she was in dropped suddenly, she says. Without a seatbelt on, Paula sustained a neck injury that led to numerous cervical surgeries and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), leaving her unable to dance for years.

Paula also was diagnosed with RA around 2005, says her rheumatologist, Daniel Wallace, MD, professor of medicine at UCLA based at Cedars-Sinai. “She presented with a CCP antibody, which is often a precursor of RA,” he explains. She was prescribed a biologic and switched to a different medication for RA a few years ago. She also relies on Voltaren gel, especially on her painful toes, she adds.

Now 58, Paula is usually very busy. In addition to her numerous other entertainment projects, she completed a grueling Las Vegas residency last spring and was scheduled to return in the summer. COVID-19 canceled that, so after performing two hours every night for months, she was suddenly at home in California with extra time to pursue other activities that make her happy, like dancing around the house with her three little dogs and exploring virtual Zumba and meditation classes.

Living With Joy
Paula looks for joy in almost everything she does. “I just try to be as mindful as I can be of what my body is telling me,” she says. “I want to eat because my body is hungry and whatever I’m putting in it tastes amazing and feels good.” And, she says, “I don’t like to, per se, ‘exercise.’ But I love moving and dancing and taking silly dance breaks and just turning on music or going outside.”

The key to staying active and feeling good is to find an activity that’s fun, Paula says. For her, that’s using her rowing machine while watching TV, listening to music and singing along at the top of her lungs while walking her dogs, or putting on music and dancing.

“For my mental health as well as my joint pain, I have to move,” she says. “If your body’s feeling good, you inevitably start feeling better.”

Paula manages her arthritis and health well, Dr. Wallace says, largely due to her optimism. “Basically, the head bone’s connected to the immune bone, and she’s shown that a positive attitude can bring one a long way,” he says. —JILL TYRER

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