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Arthritis

Everything you need to know about living well with arthritis

  • Introduction
  • Types
  • Symptoms
  • Daily Living
  • Support
  • Glossary

Introduction

If you think you may have arthritis symptoms, or have already been given a diagnosis of arthritis, this guide may help you understand more about what arthritis is, and how to live well with the condition.

In this short guide, we explore treatments for arthritis, what causes arthritis, and healthy living for arthritis, including arthritis diet and exercise. We also provide advice about daily living aids for arthritis.

This guide is not to be taken as an alternative to seeking professional, medical advice. If you think you may have any of the symptoms you read here, please consult your GP.

Introduction

What is arthritis?

You may have heard of arthritis, and even know somebody who has the condition, as it is very common across the world. Around 10 million people in the UK are thought to have arthritis.

Arthritis is a musculoskeletal condition caused by inflammation in the body’s joints, commonly affecting the hands, fingers, hips, knees and spine. It is an umbrella term for a number of different conditions and there are many different types of arthritis.

Arthritis is not just a condition that affects older people, and anybody can develop arthritis at any age. However, arthritis is more common in people aged 40 years or older because as the body ages, it experiences more wear and tear to the joints. Women are slightly more likely to get arthritis than men.

For more information about arthritis, visit the Arthritis Research UK website.

What causes arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition which describes damage to the joints within the body. Joints are where bones ‘join’ or meet, enabling our bones to move around and have a level of flexibility. Muscles pull the bones around which makes joints move. Healthy joints are essential to ensure we can move our bodies around safely and without pain or discomfort. However, joints can become damaged through:

Repetitive movements (doing the same thing over and over e.g. typing or playing certain sports)

Strain (from carrying or lifting heavy objects or being overweight)

Poor posture (puts strain on muscles and ligaments)

Injury (e.g. through car accidents, falls or breaking bones)

There are many different types of arthritis, which are caused by different processes occurring within the body to cause damage to joints. The two main arthritis types are:

Osteoarthritis – joints become damaged by tiny parts of bone growing outwards, causing swelling in the joint and the interior of the joint to become narrower

Rheumatoid arthritis – joints become damaged by inflammation which occurs because the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints

There are other arthritis types, such as psoriatic arthritis, for which there is no known cause.

Read on to find out more about types of arthritis and their causes.

Some people are more likely to get arthritis than others, and risk factors or arthritis triggers may include:

• Injury to bone i.e. previous fractures or breaks

• Infection in the body that travels to a joint e.g. Lyme disease

• Infection of the joint

• Smoking - high risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis

• Strenuous or repetitive physical occupations

Visit the Arthritis Research UK website to understand more about What is a joint and how does it work?

Did you know... “Arthritis is really common, with over 10 million people in the UK having some form of the condition.”

Types of Arthritis

Arthritis is an umbrella term for many conditions affecting the joints.

There are over 100 types of arthritis, characterised by symptoms such as joint pain and inflammation. If you receive a diagnosis of arthritis, your doctor is likely to be able to diagnose specifically what type of arthritis you have based on your symptoms and test results. Some arthritis types are harder to diagnose than others.

Other health conditions can also trigger arthritis-like symptoms; for example, fibromyalgia is not considered to be arthritis, as the joints are not damaged in the same way, but it brings about arthritis symptoms such as joint pain and fatigue.

Introduction

The full list of arthritis types can be found on the Arthritis Foundation website, but we cover a small selection of the most common types below.

Osteoarthritis – joints are damaged due to cartilage becoming thin through wear and tear, leading to fragments of bone forming on the joint, which can cause them to become misshapen. Cartilage can wear away completely, causing bones to rub against each other. For more information, visit the NHS website

Rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease, causing the external covering of the joint to become damaged, misshapen joints and the breakdown of cartilage and bone. For more information, visit the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society website

Ankylosing spondylitis – affects the spine, mainly the lower back, bottom and hips, which become inflamed, stiff and painful, and which may even fuse together as the condition develops. For more information on this, visit the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society website

Cervical spondylosis – arthritis in the neck region

Psoriatic arthritis – caused by psoriasis. For more information, visit the PAPAA website

Enteropathic arthritis – occurs in some people who have a form of inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease

Reactive arthritis – caused by an infection in the body e.g. a throat infection. This type of arthritis may cause joint inflammation as well as other symptoms, but tends to be short term and last only a few months. For more information, see the NHS website

Secondary arthritis – a type of osteoarthritis, caused by damage to a joint which may have occurred many years ago as a result of accident of injury

Polymyalgia rheumatica – an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and inflammation, mostly around the shoulders, back and hips. For more information, visit the PMRGCA UK website.

Gout – severe attacks of pain and swelling, usually in just one or two joints, such as the toes or knees, which is caused by build-up of uric acid in the body. For more information, visit the UK Gout Society

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) – experienced by children, there are different types of JIA. Most children find their symptoms improve as they get older, but others live with the condition throughout their life. For more information, visit the JIA at NRAS website

If you have been given an arthritis diagnosis, but the type of arthritis is not listed here you may wish to visit the Arthritis Care website, for an A to Z of types.

Did you know... “There are over 100 types of arthritis, with the two most common being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.”

Symptoms of Arthritis

Here, we discuss the most common arthritis symptoms.

Everyone will experience arthritis differently because there are so many different forms of the condition. People diagnosed with the same type of arthritis will also inevitably experience their condition differently as everyone is unique. Some people find they can manage their arthritis symptoms through healthy living and medication, whereas for other people, their symptoms affect daily life more considerably.

There is no way of saying how severely a person will be affected by arthritis, and some people find that each day is different for them personally. Here, we list common symptoms that some people with arthritis report having, but it is by no means exhaustive. Similarly, not every person will experience all of these symptoms.

Introduction

Arthritis symptoms may include:

• Certain movements being difficult, painful or restricted

• Feeling stiff, especially in the morning or after sitting for long periods

• Creaking or cracking joints when you move

• Muscles feeling weak

• Muscle spasms

• Joints looking swollen or red

• Feeling tired, exhausted or fatigued

• Feeling ill or feverish

• Having a rash

• Feeling low, depressed or anxious due to being in pain

If you think you may have some of these symptoms, you should visit your GP for a firm diagnosis. These symptoms are not necessarily arthritis and could be caused by other lifestyle factors or health conditions.

Did you know... “Arthritis treatment can range from drug medication to surgery, and there are many complementary therapies to support physical and mental wellbeing.”

Living with Arthritis

Read on for information about how to live well with arthritis.

Living with arthritis can be challenging for some people, whereas others find they are able to continue their daily life as normal. Most people will experience some level of pain or discomfort due to their arthritis, and below we discuss arthritis treatments that you may be given, as well as changes you can make to your lifestyle to help manage your arthritis symptoms. For example, you may wish to eat a healthy arthritis diet and take regular exercise. We also consider daily living aids for arthritis that some people use to help make their daily tasks easier.

Introduction

Treatments for arthritis

Arthritis is not yet curable, but there are medications and therapies available which may help a person to manage their symptoms, reduce pain, improve mobility and prevent further joint damage. Your doctors will work with you after giving you an arthritis diagnosis, to develop an arthritis treatment plan.

This could consist of medication, which you may have to take for long periods of time. There are a large number of arthritis medications, and the ones prescribed to you will be designed to help with the specific type of arthritis you have. Arthritis Research UK features an A to Z of drugs you may find useful.

In some cases, surgery may also be recommended for you; for example, if one of your hip joints is considerably damaged and this is affecting your mobility and quality of life, you may be offered a hip replacement, whereby an orthopaedic surgeon will replace your existing hip joint with an artificial one. Arthritis UK provide a wealth of information about various arthritis surgery options which may be available to you, and Arthritis Care provide a booklet giving a surgery and arthritis explanation which indicates risks and other factors to consider before deciding to have surgery.

Some people with arthritis benefit from physiotherapy, which is available through the NHS or privately. A physiotherapist can help:

• Advise how to deal with arthritis pain, using ice and heat application

• Advise how to increase exercise and fitness, to reduce body weight and help keep the body healthy

• Recommend set exercises for increasing flexibility, range of motion or muscle strength

• Help recommend ways to improve your mobility if this is affected, for example, using mobility aids like a walking stick

• Advise how to change your posture

Some people also use complementary therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy, and report that these help manage or improve their arthritis symptoms. Other people also report things like aromatherapy and reflexology help with their sense of wellbeing and relaxation. For more information on complementary therapies for arthritis, visit the Arthritis Care website.

Impact on daily living

Arthritis will impact upon a person’s daily life in various ways, and some people will find the condition presents more challenges to their everyday routine than other people. Everybody will experience arthritis differently. Arthritis symptoms may cause pain, fatigue and difficulty with movement, but finding the right treatment for arthritis can help ease these and many people have a good quality of life.

Some people find that living with a long-term condition like arthritis affects their mood and sense of emotional wellbeing. Living a healthy lifestyle, staying in touch with friends and family, being able to work and socialise, can all help increase your sense of identity.

Some people benefit from pain management programmes or attending sessions at a pain clinic, which are often available via the NHS. These are designed to help you to learn how to deal with your pain both physically and mentally. Many people with arthritis report that these sessions help them to share their experiences with others, and find ways to cope with periods where pain is particularly challenging. Find out more about pain management.

For some people, arthritis causes difficulty with undertaking some physical, everyday tasks. Symptoms such as pain, restricted movement, mobility problems, fatigue, muscle weakness etc. may lead to some basic activities becoming more challenging. If this is the case for you, you may wish to have an assessment from an Occupational Therapist, which may be available through your local social services department. An Occupational Therapist will assess how you carry out tasks and may be able to recommend ways to adapt them, or suggest equipment to use to make these tasks easier. Read on to find out more about arthritis products that may help you with daily life.

Arthritis products

Here, we suggest some arthritis aids that may help with a variety of daily activities, which may have become difficult due to arthritis symptoms.

Preparing food & drinks – if you have arthritis in your hands, or find standing up to prepare food difficult, these products may help:

o Spreadboard

o Cutlery

o Electronic chopper

o Kettle tipper

o Perching stool

Carrying things round the home – if you have mobility problems, it may be difficult to move around the home whilst carrying items such as drinks or meals, so these products may help:

o Household trolley

o Walking trolley

Getting around – some people find that arthritis pain or associated muscle weakness may affect their mobility, and mobility aids might be a solution to make getting around easier:

o Walking stick

o Rollator

Getting in and out of chairs – standing from a chair, or sitting down onto a chair, can be difficult due to stiff or painful joints, but there are ways to increase the height of furniture so less effort is required, or specialist chairs that help you rise and lower:

o Rise and recline chairs

o Furniture raisers

Using the toilet – similar to getting in and out of a chair, bending down onto the toilet or standing back up can be difficult, but these products can help:

Raised toilet seats

Toilet frames and seat

Getting in and out of the bath – bathing can be beneficial for relieving aches and pains, but some people find it difficult to get in and out of the bath. These items may be of use:

Bath lift

Bath step

Bathroom Rail

Having a shower – standing in the shower may cause some discomfort or pain, but these items may make showering more comfortable and safe:

Grab rail

Shower stool

If you are unsure what products for arthritis may best suit your needs, please contact the NRS Healthcare Occupational Therapist product advisors by telephone on 0345 121 8111 or by emailing productadvice@nrshealthcare.co.uk

Diet for arthritis

Healthy eating for arthritis patients is important to help them maintain a healthy weight and reduce pressure on the joints. Some people believe that eating certain foods such as oily fish rich in omega 3, can help reduce arthritis inflammation. People also think that certain foods make their symptoms worse; for example, people with gout may find that eating lots of oily fish actually causes a flare up for them.

There are no hard and fast rules, and there is little evidence to confirm that specific foods are arthritis triggers, so it is best to eat a varied diet. Download this useful Healthy Eating and Arthritis booklet for more detailed information.

Some people choose to take arthritis supplements, such as glucosamine capsules, but there is little evidence to suggest these actually have an effect on symptoms or progression of the condition. If you are considering taking any supplements for arthritis, talk to your GP first, as some herbs, vitamins or minerals can affect medication or have a negative effect on your condition.

Exercise for arthritis

Regular exercise can help reduce your risk of developing arthritis. If you already have an arthritis diagnosis, you are likely to be advised to increase your level of fitness and to undertake regular exercise. This will ensure your joints stay supple and muscles and bones stay strong. Exercise can also be beneficial for mental wellbeing and can help reduce low mood. If you are unsure how to start exercising, or are worried your arthritis will get worse if you exercise, speak to your GP who may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist for further advice.

Some people do find that symptoms of fatigue make them feel as though they have no energy. However, doing less can sometimes lead to more fatigue so it is important to strike a good balance to avoid a vicious cycle. It is important to find the right balance for you whilst aiming to be as active as possible within your physical limits.

Arthritis exercise should include aerobic exercises that get the heart pumping faster (walking, running, biking, dancing), and strengthening exercises to build muscle.

You may also be given specific arthritis exercises to do by a physiotherapist or your GP, including a range of movement exercises or muscle strengthening exercises to do regularly through the day. It is important to keep doing these as instructed.

Download the Arthritis Care Exercise and Arthritis booklet for more information.

Arthritis and employment

Lots of people with arthritis work in a variety of jobs and careers. Some may need support from employers to ensure they can work effectively, without their job having an adverse effect on their physical health or wellbeing. Arthritis Care provides lots of advice and practical information about working, giving up work, finances and benefits.

Did you know... “Arthritis symptoms include pain, stiffness, restricted joint movement, joint swelling and fatigue.”

Support for Arthritis

Remember – you are not alone!

We hope this article has been helpful to you and given you an overall arthritis explanation. Some people find it helps to discuss their experiences with people who are also affected by arthritis, and below we provide a list of online chat rooms and forums where you can do just that. There is lots of arthritis support out there for you. Many charities also provide local support groups, helplines and online information, and we list sources of arthritis help below too. Your first point of contact for any health concerns should be your GP.

Introduction

Communities

Arthritis Forum – a members’ forum run by people with arthritis, to enable others to share their experiences

Arthritis Care Forum – an online community provided by a leading UK charity

Resources

Arthritis Action – a charity providing practical arthritis help for members, such as therapy programmes and education, as well as online information about practical aspects of living with arthritis

Arthritis Care – a charity providing lots of information about living with arthritis, as well as an online community, helpline, local arthritis support groups and face to face services

Arthritis Research UK – a charity providing a huge amount of online resources and information about living with arthritis, as well as a helpline, information for health professionals and research projects

NHS – source of official medical information in the UK, including information on all types of arthritis, related conditions, symptoms and treatments

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society – charity supporting people with rheumatoid arthritis, including online resources, publications, peer mentoring, local groups, a helpline and local events

Did you know... “Arthritis products are available to help people manage their day to day tasks and remain independent.”

Glossary

Unsure what something means? Checkout our Glossary section below.

Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as straightforward as possible.


Introduction

Autoimmune disease

– a health condition caused by the body’s own immune system, which is designed to fight off infection and invasion by virus or bacteria, but which mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues or organs, causing damage

Cartilage

– the tissue found at the ends of bones where joints are positioned, which protects bone and gives it some flexibility

Joints

– part of the human skeleton, where bones fit together

Ligaments

– strong tissue connecting bones together

Musculoskeletal

– related to the system of muscles and bones in the body

Psoriasis

– an autoimmune disease causing red, crusty skin in various places around the body


Last updated on 19/09/2018

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