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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
The suit aiming to replicate arthritis
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

X-ray of knee with osteoarthritis. Credit: Neil Borden/Science Photo Library
X-ray showing a knee with osteoarthritis
For 20 minutes, I had osteoarthritis.

Bending down to pick anything up was impossible. I could not open jars or cans, and climbing stairs was a slow painful experience.

A bunion cut into my foot and my joints were stiff and slow to respond.

I found it hard to get from sitting to standing and tied a shoelace with difficulty.

Pain

As time went on, my neck and knee started to ache and I tried to visualise how my life would change if I had indeed got the condition. There would be no running around with the children - in fact no running full stop.

Day-to-day tasks would take twice the time, and some might even go by the board - would I bother putting on make-up if it caused me pain?

I think this suit is a wonderful idea if it gives doctors and nurses a chance to try it
Sheena Turner

For a very short period I had a glimpse into the pain felt by the 8.5 million Britons with osteoarthritis - then with relief I took my special simulation suit off.

The suit, which cost 20,000 and was developed by Loughborough University mimics the characteristics of the condition to give wearers a "real life" insight into the pain and impaired quality-of-life associated with osteoarthritis (OA).

Experts hope the suit can be used not only to raise the profile of the condition, but also to show healthcare professionals and carers how the condition affects them.

Jane Elliott in the suit
The body suit replicates some of the discomfort of OA

Dr Garth Logan, former president of the Primary Care Rheumatology Society and a GP in Northern Ireland, said he hoped many people would gain a better understanding from trying on the suit.

"We are hoping doctors, nurses and carers can try it, and I would really love to see politicians trying it on."

He said by trying on the suit health professionals could get a better idea how their patient is feeling and might ensure more sympathetic responses.

"Part of the problem is that most doctors have had preconceptions and we need to say there is more they could be doing."

Empathy

It's something Sheena Turner would certainly agree with.

The 62-year-old former nurse has had severe pain associated with osteoarthritis for 22 years. Her neck, shoulder, hips, lumbar spine, and hands, including her thumbs, are all affected.

As her condition worsened she had to give up work and walking, both of which she loved.

But despite the considerable lifestyle changes the condition has forced on her, Sheena says the medical profession has, on the whole, been less than sympathetic.

She recalls a succession of unsympathetic comments including: "For goodness sake, just take some paracetamol", "Most people your age have aches and pain", and "It's just your age".

Sheena feels it is time medics learnt more empathy for the patients they are caring for.

"When my nurses were looking after the elderly I used to tell them to put cotton wool in their ears, or wear cloudy glasses, to give them an idea what it is like to be elderly.

OA is the most common arthritis condition
It occurs when the cartilage covering the bony surfaces of joints breaks down or when spurs develop at the edge of the bones in a joint
Weight-bearing joints such as the lower back, hips and knees are most affected

"I think this suit is a wonderful idea if it gives doctors and nurses a chance to try it."

Jane Spence, of Arthritis Care, was diagnosed with the condition two years ago at the age of 45 and says the suit could be a vital education tool.

"The osteoarthritis suit is a great idea. It can be a struggle to explain how bad the pain can get to friends, family and even doctors.

"Most days it feels as if I'm wearing a suit of rusty armour, like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, and some days I experience unrelenting, razor-like pain."

In conjunction with the suit, a new web-based education programme for GPs is also being launched to mark World Arthritis Day.

The JOINT Osteoarthritis Education Programme will be made available to GPs throughout the UK, providing advanced training on the diagnosis and management of the condition, including both drug-based and lifestyle approaches to help improve mobility and minimise pain.

Dr Logan said: "JOINT is an important step forward for the effective treatment of osteoarthritis-related pain.

"The confusion surrounding the safety of a number of traditional therapies has now made it vital for GPs to take stock of the current treatment options.

"For those of us involved in developing the programme, JOINT has enabled us to outline a holistic approach for GPS and other healthcare professionals managing osteoarthritis that will have direct and immediate benefit for their patients."


SEE ALSO
Celebrity Health - Bob Wilson
05 Jan 07 |  Health
Pain burdens arthritis patients
05 Apr 04 |  Health

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