Is someone you love living with arthritis? Invisible conditions can be hard to understand, so we spoke to the experts at Arthritis Action to find out how you can best support those with arthritis if you’re living with or caring for them.
Why is arthritis painful?
Dr Wendy Holden, Consultant at North Hampshire Hospitals and Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor, explains: “The word ‘arthritis’ means ‘inflammation in the joints’.
“One reason for the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis may be due to nerve endings in and around the joint becoming more sensitive. This can continue even when the original cause of pain has settled.”
Symptoms of arthritis include:
- Joint stiffness, especially in the morning and lasting for less than 30 minutes.
- Joint pain, especially during movement and after exercise.
- Joint tenderness.
- Stiffness and loss of movement in the joint.
- Bony swelling around the edges of the joints, especially in the fingers.
- A creaking or grating noise coming from the joints.
- Loss of muscle around the joint and a feeling of weakness, for example difficulty gripping.
What can be done to reduce pain and improve joint function?
- Keep to a healthy weight.
- Keep your muscles strong and exercise
- Keep to a healthy diet, to maintain muscle and bone health.
- Distraction, meditation, reducing stress and better sleep can all help reduce pain.
- Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines can help with pain and stiffness.
- Physical therapies like physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic treatment can help manage pain and improve function.
- Joint injections of a corticosteroid and local anaesthetic can help especially painful joints.
- Taking control of your symptoms and lifestyle in order to live a better life with less pain and improved function.
How can arthritis affect someone emotionally?
Living with long-term pain can take its toll on our mental health and stop us feeling in control.
“Some people have concerns about pain, feel frustrated that they can’t do what they used to do and/or worry about what might happen in the future,” says Dr.Wendy
“If these feelings become overwhelming, they can affect sleep, increase pain and worsen worries.
“Learning relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or meditation, and learning to manage negative thoughts can help you cope better, reduce the effects of worries and help you manage the symptoms of arthritis.”
What can we do to support loved ones living with arthritis?
“Arthritis symptoms, such as pain, restricted mobility and fatigue, can impose physical limitations in daily living activities that others take for granted such as bending, reaching, kneeling and walking,” says Heather Baumohl- Johnson, Arthritis Action’s Director of Member Services and Operations, and Clinical Hypnotherapist.
Feeling reliant on others and having to ask for help can be difficult, so it’s important to show your loved one that they are not a burden and to empower them to feel more in control of their own life. “It can be hard to accept a long-term condition. Coping strategies and a positive approach are essential for a person living with arthritis,” says Heather.
How you can help those living with arthritis:
- Encourage them to talk about how they feel and show that you’re there for them.
- If they are depressed, encourage them to speak to their GP and offer to go with them.
- Offer emotional or physical support as they may have lost confidence in themselves.
- Constant pain is debilitating, so help them find ways to relax and stay positive.
- Offer help rather than waiting to be asked.
- Find organisations that can help them with daily life tasks e.g. Disability Living Associations, mobility aids, local support groups and pain clinics.
- Take them or arrange transport for their appointments.
- Ensure that they are taking prescribed medication correctly.
- Make sure they are eating a healthy diet, with regular meals and portion sizes.
- Learn as much as you can about their type of arthritis.
Are there any life hacks or gadgets you'd recommend to make life easier for someone with arthritis?
“Even though using the joints cannot cause further damage, arthritis can cause pain and muscle weakness, which can, in turn, make tasks like self-care and housework, more difficult,” says Dr Wendy.
In the kitchen, in particular, there are lots of helpful gadgets and aids that can help. This Arthritis Action factsheet recommends jar openers, electric tin openers, non-slip mats, electric vegetable peelers, silicone oven mitts and more.
For more advice on useful aids or adaptations to your home, ask your GP to refer you to an occupational therapist.
How can those around someone with arthritis encourage them to get moving - without pressuring them or making them feel bad?
Exercise may be the last thing someone wants to do when they’re in pain, but gentle movements are essential for strengthening the muscles and keeping mobile.
“Constant pain is debilitating, so help them learn ways to relax and stay positive. Remind them of what activities they can still do and help them get involved in some form of exercise, however small. Offer to help, for example by driving them to any classes they’re interested in or doing an online workout together,” says David Vaux, Arthritis Action’s Therapies Manager & Exercise Lead.
Are there any gentle and fun activities that loved ones can suggest that they do with their loved one with arthritis?
“‘Low impact’ exercises are good for minimising impact across the surface of a joint, such as the impact of hitting the floor while running or jumping. Some good examples might be road or exercise biking, rowing machines, swimming, or a circuit class that focuses on non-jarring movements,” David explains.
“Help your loved ones choose an exercise that’s right for them and that they’re comfortable with. Everyone is different, so the best exercises for each person are also different.”