Arthritis is often thought of as a disease that only affects older people, however, childhood arthritis affects three in a 1,000 children in Canada.

Nick LeBlanc is a big basketball fan. In 2008, he was playing in a tournament when a swollen knee led to a surprising diagnosis.

“We just kind of played it off as I overworked my leg for the tournament, but fast forward like two weeks later and my leg was starting to hurt. So I went to the ER, they referred me to rheumatology and then I was diagnosed with arthritis,” says LeBlanc.

Following his diagnosis, LeBlanc experienced intense swelling and bone deterioration. The 17-year-old has undergone three surgeries and has used crutches to walk for the past year.

“Back then I couldn't predict how it would end up now,” says LeBlanc. “I didn't really see it as significant as I did, you know, the day it happened as compared to now.”

The grade 12 student says giving up the sports he loved was one of the biggest changes he’s had to make.

“Before my arthritis, I was basically your typical kid at the time,” says LeBlanc. “I was playing nothing but basketball and hockey. I literally eat and slept that. So I couldn't really do that anymore, so that was quite a significant lifestyle change.”

Refusing to give up on sports altogether, LeBlanc now paddles instead.

Adam Richardson is with the Arthritis Society. He says many people only see arthritis as a disease of the elderly.

“If you're somebody who doesn't have crutches or you might not be in a wheelchair, you tell people you have arthritis at the age of 15 or 16 years old, or younger even, it's not something that people easily relate to,” says Richardson.

“People think it applies only to the elderly or you know, old people or stuff like that,” says LeBlanc. “Not really a kid who's 17-years-old, who is about to graduate high school.”

Both Richardson and LeBlanc agree, sharing stories and talking about childhood arthritis can help break the stigma.

“With any chronic illness, it's getting the conversation started, knowing that there are limitations behind this disease, but also there's a lot of things that people can still do,” says Richardson.