Photo Credit: Kathryn Sundquist
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not something that only affects older people. Approximately 300,000 children in this country alone are living with juvenile arthritis. Teenage dancer Kathryn Sundquist became part of this statistic when she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) at just 7-years-old. Sundquist discovered her passion for dance in the 1st grade, but these days she relies on regular chiropractic care to keep her dancing. Between dancing at her dance school, and rehearsals for her high school dance team, Sundquist dances an average of three hours a day, which is amazing in itself since her JRA flares up the most in her ankles and toes.
Instead of letting JRA take away her passion for dance, Sundquist devised a plan which includes an active lifestyle, an anti-inflammatory diet, and chiropractic care, to help her continue on in the art form that she loves so much. She’s even become a public advocate for children and teens with arthritis and was honored as the 2017 National Young Adult Honoree for Walk to Cure Arthritis.
I recently got the chance to speak to Sundquist to find out more about her future plans with dance, how she deals with flare-ups, and her advice for other children and teens diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
Do you plan to pursue a career in dance after high school? If so, what does your ideal future as a dancer look like?
Dance was such an important part of my high school experience and I often dream about dancing in college. I still plan on being physically active in college and am excited to try out new dance and fitness classes. I learn more from dance than I could ever learn in a classroom, including discipline, balance, physical stamina, creativity, teamwork, and persistence.
Talk about how important stretching is for you before dancing. Sometimes, not enough emphasis is put on stretching, but I know it is very important for people with arthritis.
Stretching is not only an important part of my pre-dance routine, but also an important part of my daily routine! I love stretching and practicing yoga for relieving pain and for relaxing. In addition to stretching and yoga, I also schedule regular visits to a chiropractor. I find spinal adjustments help relieve pain and improve my range of motion.
By combining stretching and yoga with chiropractic visits, I can avoid treating chronic pain with prescription meds which may lead to misuse, addiction, overdose, or even death.
When you do have an arthritic flare up, what are your go-to ways to help ease the symptoms?
First of all, I always reflect on the past few days and think about why I might be having symptoms. Have I eaten healthy or have I had a lot of "treats?" Have I been under a lot of stress? Have I gotten enough rest? Have I been more active? Once I come up with possible reasons, I try to make sure I get back on track and take care of myself. Secondly, I determine if I need to visit my chiropractor to help relieve my symptoms.
When I was first diagnosed with arthritis, my chiropractor told me that more than 91 million Americans have arthritis, and they are getting younger. I found this interesting because arthritis is a condition commonly associated with older folks.
My doctor also explained that younger people are less likely to seek professional treatment for this condition, which can lead to greater stiffness and discomfort down the road. It’s crucial that any sort of lingering physical discomfort is addressed promptly by a qualified doctor.
Photo Credit: Kathryn Sundquist
What is your best advice to other children and teens who have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis?
Listen to your body! Eat right and drink lots of water. Limit processed foods, red meat, refined sugar, and white flour. A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and joint pain.
Most importantly, don't let your diagnosis define you. Define yourself by the things you are passionate about. I define myself as a dancer and a hard worker. Even when I struggle physically, it doesn't change who I am, which is a person whose spirit is strong and unbreakable.