It all started in 2007 with some stiffness in my neck. But then there were days when I could barely turn my neck, and I knew it wasn't just a stress-induced cramp.
I've always led a very active lifestyle, with dance and working out five times a week at the center of my activities. This all had to come to a halt because of the intense pain I was experiencing. One day while filming an episode of "Dancing With the Stars," I turned my neck to glance at a dancer and felt a sharp pain shoot down my spine that left me nearly immobile for the rest of the show.
The pain continued to get worse, and I knew it was time to see a doctor. It came as a complete shock when I was diagnosed with arthritis. I thought my pain had been caused by work and travel overload. People my age are not supposed to get arthritis, right? Wrong! It is a common misconception that the disease strikes only our grandparents. In fact, arthritis affects 50 million adults, two-thirds of them under the age of 65, including 300,000 children. It is the nation's leading cause of disability, and to date there is still no cure.
More than 100 different types of arthritis exist. Specifically, I have spinal stenosis. Doctors explained to me that it actually started as osteoarthritis in my neck — caused by years of dancing — that led to stenosis, a painful arthritic condition where the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and nerves.
Treatments have helped lessen my pain, but arthritis is a chronic condition. We must work together to find a cure. On Sept. 18, 2013, you can help. I'm spreading the word about Healing Hands for Arthritis — a one-day national event where $10 from every one-hour massage at Massage Envy Spa will go to the Arthritis Foundation.
The event will raise funds to find a cure for arthritis, while educating sufferers on the benefits of massage therapy to alleviate certain symptoms. I incorporate frequent massages into my wellness regimen, along with healthy eating habits and acupuncture. All this has definitely helped with my arthritis pain.
Today, arthritis costs the U.S. economy $128 billion annually. People with arthritis account for 44 million outpatient visits and nearly 1 million hospitalizations each year. By 2030, an estimated 67 million, or 25 percent of the projected adult population, will have arthritis. These numbers are staggering and signal that we must work to find a cure.
There is still time for you to help. Book your appointment for a one-hour massage on Sept. 18, during Healing Hands for Arthritis. Visit MassageEnvy.com to find a clinic near you. On behalf of the millions of Americans living with pain, thank you for supporting this very important cause.
"Dancing With the Stars" premieres Monday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. on ABC.