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Valley woman explains pain of having a sitting disability

(Photo by Michael Ging)

PHOENIX — There’s nothing like sitting down after a long day on your feet.

But what if sitting down caused excruciating pain?

For people like Linda VandeVrede, this is an every day struggle.

VandeVrede has a sitting disability, a chronic pain caused by sitting at a 90 degree angle.

Her disability is not recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“If you think about everything in life that involves sitting… I couldn’t do it,” she said.

While there isn’t much research on how many people in the U.S. are affected by sitting disabilities, other countries have estimated that this is more common than you’d expect.

“The best place I could go to find more stats was Norway of all places,” VandeVrede said. “They estimated in Norway, which has about 4.5 million people, that 50,000 people, or 3% roughly, had this condition.”

She said her first flash of pain came on a plane ride in 2001.

She described the pain as burning.

“It’s an intense burning feeling, as if one had a hot curling iron under each thigh,” she said.

It wasn’t until years later or so that the pain became habitual.

“I didn’t see a specialist right away, I just worked through it,” VandeVrede said. “It just kept increasing. Then after the thanksgiving of 2007, I went into work and about two hours into the day it just went into overdrive.

“It was a shot of pain that made me just almost fall out of my chair. So that began a long process to figure out, ‘what is this?'”

She said it took years to diagnose.

“It took me about four years and a lot of research online to get it diagnosed,” VandeVrede said. “In between all the time I was seeing various specialists in Arizona and getting different imaging done and nobody could really figure out what it was.”

This caused her to retire from her job as a public relations executive because of the pain.

The loss of income was coupled with the expense of countless doctors, physical therapists and other pain-reduction remedies.

“It’s an eye opener to suffer some kind of disability that isn’t understood and isn’t covered,” she said.

Eventually, VandeVrede was able to connect through others suffering from similar conditions around the country and the world via Facebook.

She said that because her condition is not recognized by the ADA, accommodations are not required. However, she said she hopes that will change over time.

“There’s the assumption that a person can sit. If you can’t sit, if you go to a restaurant you’re always looking for couches, do they have high-top tables so maybe you can stand? If you’re in a waiting room at a doctor’s office, ironically, there isn’t a place where you can lie down. So it’s a whole revamp of design of public spaces to accommodate people who just can’t sit at a 90 degree angle.”

VandeVrede said one thing that others can do for those living with a sitting disability is to acknowledge it.

“The most crucial factor for people who have [a sitting disability] is just validation that it exists,” she said. “Because it is invisible, it’s hard for people to comprehend… It’s not sympathy or pity that people with this condition seek, it’s validation.”

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