Tonya Horton is a Chronic Strength Champion, which means she doesn’t just take control of her pain — she battles back. Read to learn how Tonya has found ways to overcome her osteoarthritis.
I’ll never forget the surprised look on my new doctor’s face when she entered the examination room four years ago.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you,” she said. “Your X-rays show the knees of a 70-year-old woman.”
Yes, my osteoarthritis diagnosis was a surprise. But it shouldn’t have been. Osteoarthritis (OA) disproportionately impacts women — especially women of color. It isn’t uncommon for a Black woman like me to develop osteoarthritis, but this isn’t universally known.
That’s why I am dedicated to sharing my story to uplift other OA patients who may not know they have access to resources and the support of others who understand what they’re going through. I’ve turned this passion into conducting research on the inequities in patient care experienced by women of color. We still have a long way to go, but I’ve found that the more I can share my story, the better.
My journey through pain
Four years later, I have good days and bad days, but there are very few “no pain” days. To help reduce the bad days, I’ve found strategies to keep my pain in check. It’s a journey — but I do everything I can to take control of my pain so I can live life on my own terms.
My medication options are limited due to allergies, so I’ve had to learn complementary methods of pain management — a ton of which I learned through the Arthritis Foundation’s e-Books; my favorite is Coping & Comfort, which has a lot of firsthand advice from arthritis patients.
I’ve also found that stress can make my symptoms even worse, so one thing I started doing is meditating. Whether it’s a one-minute or five-minute meditation, I find taking a few minutes out of the day to reset can help ground me, take my mind off my pain or help me feel a little better after a sleepless night.
As another form of self-care, I practice yoga as often as I can. Hatha yoga, especially, has been great for my pain relief because it helps me move and stretch in ways I never could’ve imagined.
In addition to making tweaks to my daily routine, I had to make big lifestyle changes to accommodate my situation: I relocated to a single-story home to avoid using stairs and purchased an arthritis-friendly car to make my day-to-day easier.
Support from others
Right after my diagnosis, I was hesitant to open up about my arthritis to others — even to my family. It may seem backwards, but I found strength by first connecting with total strangers. I’ve found community through the Arthritis Foundation, and now I’m a member of their Patient Leadership Council. Talking about my story with others who “get it” has given me the confidence to talk to my family, friends and co-workers. There are Live Yes! Connect Groups in a lot of places, completely run by volunteers. People come together virtually and in person, when safe to do so, to share stories.
Another way I find support is through the new Vim app — a tool I wish I had when I was first diagnosed. Through the app, I’m able to focus on my physical pain while assessing my mental health as well. Mental health isn’t often top-of-mind when dealing with a physically debilitating disease like arthritis, and the app’s social networking component allows me to connect with even more people facing similar battles.
At the end of the day, my biggest mantra is I don’t have to sacrifice the fullness of my life because I have arthritis. For those living with a chronic illness, they sometimes reduce their life to the bare minimum, but I refuse to do that. I can, and do, live a full life with arthritis.