People in Ontario who suffer from chronic pain say that the dance therapy they’re receiving as part of a research project is greatly improving their quality of life.

Susan Cleaver, who has inflammatory joint disease, says she was unable to walk without a cane before starting the weekly classes 10 weeks ago, in Midland, Ont.

“I am moving a lot more freely and I have a lot more pain free days,” Cleaver said. She is also able to take less painkilling medication.

Nadine Lalonde, who has rheumatoid arthritis, has also lowered her intake of medication since starting the classes at the CHIGAMIK Community Health Centre .

“I am out of bed in the morning without wincing,” she said. “Freedom from the drugs is freedom to live my life the way I want to.”

Instructor Rebecca Barnstaple says she has noticed astonishing changes. For example, one woman has given up her leg braces since starting the program, she said.

Thanks to word of mouth, the program now has a waitlist.

Joseph DeSouza, a neuroscientist from York University in Toronto, is studying the results of the classes. He has also researched dance therapy for people with other conditions, including anxiety and Parkinson’s disease.

DeSouza theorizes that when the motor system is deeply engaged in learning choreography and listening to the music, it may be “distracting” patients’ brains enough to reduce their discomfort.

DeSouza points out that dance uses vision, hearing and touch. “It’s fully engaging, so at that point any pain signals they have,” he added, “they may be distracted from.”

Another theory for why dance may reduce pain has to do with the neurotransmitter dopamine.

DeSouza is interested in further studying those questions. Patients like Cleaver and Lalonde are just happy to have some relief.

With a report from CTV News' medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip