More than 50 million Americans wake up with achy joints and it's not just because of their age.
Arthritis can plague the body with pain but that doesn't mean it can't be controlled.
As the saying goes, do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life. For Leonard Heinemann it's caring for his horses. But back in 2005, this simple chore was becoming a challenge.
"I couldn't close my hands around the reins enough to hold them." Said Heinemann.
After meeting with his family doctor, Leonard was referred to Rheumatologist Dr. Kara Petersen with the Avera Medical Group Rheumatology.
"I did some blood tests and she looked my hands over and my shoulders and all of my joints and she was the one that determined that I had rheumatoid arthritis." Said Heinemann.
"I don't feel any swelling in your joints but yeah you have lost cartilage and I can feel that." Said Dr. Petersen as she examined Leonard's hands.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body's own defenses start attacking the soft cartilage and breaks down the joints. In most cases starting in the smaller joints like hands and feet.
"It can affect any joint in the body so if people are experiencing symptoms of pain and stiffness or swelling in the joints then that would be adequate reason to see a physician." Said Dr. Petersen.
Like any destructive disease, early detection is extremely important. Doctors don't know what causes rheumatoid arthritis and a cure still hasn't been found. Changing your diet and losing weight can help slow the inflammation but for most patients medications are the route used to effectively stop the progression.
"Once damage occurs we can't undo damage, we can only prevent damage with adequate treatment." Said Dr. Petersen.
Everybody is different and can react differently, so finding the right combination can take time.
In Leonard's case, his past made treatment a challenge.
"Because he has history of cancer and he only has one functional kidney that's obviously affected our treatment choices for him but we've come up with a good regimen that works well for him, he tolerates it very well and he is out living the life that he wants to live and that's the whole entire purpose of this treatment." Said Dr. Petersen.
With medications helping regulate his immune system Leonard is able to stay active and do the daily chores running a farm requires. There is still stiffness, but he's regained much of his mobility.
"Before, I couldn't get my hand much past here. Now I can get it here to my shoulder and before I couldn't close my hand and now I can't close it completely; but I can hold on to peanuts and I can hold on to the horses!" Said Heinemann.
Leonard's life is now one with far less pain, meaning Leonard isn't the only one smiling on this farm. Rheumatoid arthritis affects nearly 2 million Americans with the majority of those being women. For more information about the disease there is a free health expo coming up on Saturday, April 12th in the Prairie Center or just call 877-AT-AVERA.