According to the CDC, by 2040, 26% of US adults (18 years or older) are projected to have a physician diagnosis of arthritis. Arthritis risk does increase with age and is more common among women. In 2015, 15 million adults reported severe joint pain due to arthritis. Remember, kids can get arthritis too!
In addition to Heart disease and Diabetes, Arthritis and other musculoskeletal and rheumatology conditions are a leading cause of work disability among US adults stated by the CDC. Several years ago, arthritis was known to limit the activities of more than 44% of adults and I am sure the percentage have only grown since then.
I sometimes take it for granted that I can move, run, jump, bike, kick without much difficulty. People battling arthritis are not so fortunate. I watch these patients come in with assisted devices like a cane or walker sometimes. Other patients sit uncomfortably in chairs as they struggle with prolonged stiffness and diffuse body pain. I have watched someone close to me physically deteriorate as arthritis has taken over the body. It is heartbreaking to see people who were once so active be slowed down by the joint pain, inflammation and stiffness.
I remember suffering a pelvic fracture as a skater and the pain I endured for several months and the stiffness that followed. The rehab program took over a year and that area has never felt the same. I am not able to sit for long periods in a chair or car ride and my injury is activated often as I run. I can’t imagine what these patients go through every day trying to perform normal daily activities like cooking, combing one’s hair, picking up a baby, getting out of bed or simply walking to the bathroom.
For some individuals, there are medications like DMARDS (disease modifying agents) and injections/infusions (biologics) that can help treat inflammatory arthritis like rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis and improve mobility.
I do try and be honest with my patients that sometimes these medications may not restore complete physical function. It is important for the rheumatologist and other physicians to ask about the patient’s pain and physical function as part of the exam and to help guide treatment. Degenerative arthritis can be frustrating and challenging because it is part of aging and cartilage loss.
Be supportive and listen to those with arthritis. Be positive.
Understand that every little movement takes great effort and they may not be able to articulate how much pain they are in.
Encourage them to engage in physical therapy, yoga, stretching and activities like swimming.
Maintaining a healthy weight can only help with easing stiffness and improving mobility.
Be empathetic. You can’t walk in their shoes but you can try to understand the frustration you would feel if you did.