A group of Waikato medics are on a mission to stop young people suffering back pain in silence.
Led by Waikato Hospital rheumatologist Dr Douglas White, the group is working to diagnose and treat Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).
AS is a type of arthritis that can strike relatively young people, mainly men, and is often not diagnosed for years.
The team from the hospital's rheumatology department are concerned many people are suffering in silence when help is available.
"We are seeing a third to a half of who we should be seeing," said Dr White.
He said data from overseas suggested AS affected about 1 per cent of the population. "We are not seeing that and we could do a lot for these people."
Dr White said while there was no cure, medication and exercise programmes could make a huge difference to the quality of life.
So the group have embarked on a three-month pilot course of hydrotherapy classes being run by physiotherapist Sarah Wales at Waterworld's hydrotherapy pool.
Exercise and stretching helps retain mobility and can stop the vertebrae fusing - the worst result of the disease.
In a worst-case scenario that fusion could stop a person from driving or working. But Dr White said with early diagnosis and treatment a person could lead a full, productive life.
Currently diagnosis time is around seven years. "That's too long, and so much could be done in that time."
Nurse specialist Trisha Holmes has done a lot of work supporting the clinics and patients. "A lot of young guys blame sports injuries. But I see young fathers who can't play with their babies - because of the back pain - so it has a huge impact on their quality of life."
One such man is Lewis Bird, who has been involved in the hydrotherapy trial.
Mr Bird has battled the arthritic disease for 35 of his 46 years. "But this is great," he said of his pool sessions.
- Waikato Times