Thirty-five-year-old Nicki was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis, related to Crohn’s disease, five years ago. Inspired by her young daughter’s love of dancing, a year ago she took up beginner’s ballet lessons. Nicki explains: "Ballet has really helped with my arthritis. It’s all about stretching and strengthening, as well as posture, and I didn’t realise it would be so beneficial for my joints.
"I struggle a lot with fatigue so it can be hard to get motivated to exercise. But ballet just doesn’t feel like exercise to me, not like forcing yourself to go to the gym. It's physical but the lessons allow you to ease into it. Doing lots of stretches and strengthening barre work means I feel like I have had a good workout, but the difference is I always look forward to going.
"It’s important to have an understanding teacher. My teacher knows my medical history and tells me if there are certain exercises I might want to sit out. I only do what I can do. I have periods where my symptoms mean I need to stop going for a couple of weeks, but I dip in and out depending on how I'm feeling."
Nicki has arthritis in her ankles, knees and hips. She says: "Some days my arthritis really affects me. I do struggle with the pain and fatigue at times. I got very, very down when I was first diagnosed. I had some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), just over the phone, but I found it really helped me to manage how I feel. I plan my week carefully and keep on top of my housework by doing a little bit every day, so I don’t overdo it."
Nicki feels ballet has been good for her mental health and mood, as well as helping to strengthen her joints: "On the days when the pain and fatigue really drains me, going to ballet gives me a boost. It relaxes me, it’s time I can focus on me and it’s also a sociable way to keep active. I’ve got to know the other people and the teachers at the dance school.
"I feel like if I can do this I can do other things. Sometimes you just need to take that first step and try something new and it can make a massive difference to how you feel. I started ballet aged 34 and I’m not the oldest person there. I was completely new to it; I’d never taken dance lessons when I was younger. I love it. It has given me a real sense of achievement.
"I’d say to anyone else with arthritis looking for some inspiration to help them keep active – find something you’ve always wanted to try and give it a go. Everyone is different, so I think the key is to find something you love doing, something that works for you."