Arthritis – A Guide

Focus on Disability - For Disabled People, the Elderly and their Carers in the UK

A Guide to Arthritic Conditions including links to types, treatment, physiotherapy, diet, occupational therapy, aids and equipment.

All Arthritic conditions can cause varying degrees of disability and impaired lifestyle.

“Arthritis” is not just a word doctors use when they talk about painful, stiff joints. In fact, there are many kinds of arthritis, each with different symptoms and treatments. Most types of arthritis are chronic. That means they can go on for a long period of time.

The many types of arthritis – or musculoskeletal conditions can be grouped under three classifications:

Arthritis can attack joints in almost any part of the body. Some forms of arthritis cause changes you can see and feel swelling, warmth, and redness in your joints. In some the pain and swelling last only a short time, but are very bad. Other types cause less troublesome symptoms, but still slowly damage your joints.

Treating Arthritis

Each kind of arthritis is handled a little differently, but there are some common treatment choices. Rest, exercise, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and learning the right way to use and protect your joints are key to living with any kind of arthritis. The right shoes and a cane can help with pain in the feet, knees, and hips when walking. You can also find gadgets to help you open jars and bottles or to turn the door knobs in your house more easily.

Medication and Remedies

In addition, there are also medicines that can help with the pain and swelling. A regime of medication for your arthritis will be considered and prescribed by your GP or consultant.

There are herbal remedies that may give you symptom relief.
See Arthritis Joint Pain


Anyone being incapacitated by Arthritis is entitled to financial help from the benefits system if their incapacity fits the criteria to receive the award of that benefit.

see: Benefits and Allowances for Disabled People and Benefit Rates

How Physiotherapy can help your Arthritis:

for more information see physiotherapy

1. Helping you to understand how arthritis affects you

A physiotherapist can help you understand what happens to your joints and muscles when you have arthritis. There are different types of arthritis and it can affect your muscles and joints in many ways. It is important that you understand how the arthritis affects you individually. The information you are given by health professionals, leaflets and the internet will help you manage the effects of arthritis.

2. Helping you to manage your pain

Arthritis can cause widespread joint or muscle pain, or pain that is more localised (occurring in only one place). Managing your day-to-day pain is very important and you should discuss with your doctor what medication is suitable for you.

In addition to medication there are many other strategies that you can use to manage your pain, and a physiotherapist can advise you about these.

Pacing is one of these strategies. Sometimes over-activity or not doing enough can make your pain increase. Working with the physiotherapist you can discover the right balance between rest and activity. This does not mean you have to do less, but planning your activities so you are always comfortable will enable you to enjoy the things you want to do.

Regular exercise will help you strengthen your muscles and joints and increase your day-to-day fitness. Being physically fit will help you increase your level of activity without necessarily increasing your pain. It will also stimulate the production of your own natural pain-relieving chemicals such as endorphins.

There are some other simple strategies you can use. Applying an ice pack over a hot and swollen joint can relieve pain. Applying a heat pack over a tensed and tired muscle will help the muscle relax. Taking time out and relaxing will reduce body and mind tension and make you feel better in yourself. Splinting of swollen or painful joints may be helpful, for example during a flare of rheumatoid arthritis. Your physiotherapist or occupational therapist may therefore make or provide temporary splints for you.>

Other methods that may be used by physiotherapists (and which may be found in settings outside a physiotherapy department) include transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), massage and acupuncture.

  • TENS works by blocking pain messages to the brain and modifying your perception of pain. It is a small electronic device that you use by placing small pads on your skin surface. These then send small pulses to nerve endings. This may help pain in some cases – the response varies between individuals.
  • Massage can help the muscles relax and make joint movement more comfortable.
  • Acupuncture can stimulate the brain to produce natural pain-relieving chemicals – it should be used only by a qualified clinician who has had the appropriate training. Some physiotherapists are trained to give acupuncture.

You should discuss with your physiotherapist which methods may work best for you.

3. Improving your fitness

Keeping active is very important when you have arthritis. Exercise can improve your general fitness, maintain your weight, help your general mobility, and make you feel better in yourself. There are many different ways you can exercise. The important point is that you do it on a regular basis, that you find a type of exercise that is suited to you, and that you enjoy it.

Activities like swimming, walking, t’ai chi and dancing can be a good start. Talk to friends and family and find out what facilities are available in your area. Contact your local council and see what activity or exercise programmes are offered in your area. With this information you and your physiotherapist can decide what would be the best exercise option for you. Exercising may be a new experience for you and your physiotherapist will support and encourage you through this process.

Some physiotherapists have access to hydrotherapy. This allows people to perform exercises in a hydrotherapy pool, which is heated to a higher temperature than a normal swimming pool. Many people find it easier to move in water – the warmth and weightlessness enables them to move with less effort and to relax their joints and muscles.

4. Teaching you mobilising, stretching and strengthening exercises

Arthritis can cause joint inflammation that leads to joint stiffness and muscle weakness. This can affect your day-to-day activities, from something as simple as sitting to your ability to work and exercise. Your physiotherapist will assess the range of movement of your joints and your muscle strength. Using manual techniques and exercises, you and your physiotherapist can work towards achieving your full potential and best functional outcome. Each person will be individually assessed and advised.

Diet and Arthritis

There is a great deal of advice about diet and nutritional supplements for arthritis and rheumatism in magazines, books, and on the internet. Much of it is confusing. Claims are made for many food supplements and diets, suggesting that they help with arthritis. Some of the advice, particularly on the internet, is given by companies who produce food supplements, and who have an obvious interest in you buying their products! Some people end up taking expensive food supplements or following elaborate and inconvenient diets which do not help, or may even be harmful. Often the same results can be achieved by simpler, cheaper methods. For example, it is generally better to get the vitamins you need from food, rather than take supplements. On balance, altering your diet will not have as great an impact on your arthritis as the more standard drug treatment and in particular you should not stop your medical treatment without discussion with your doctor.

Can changing my diet really help my arthritis?

Yes.The right diet can certainly help some people with arthritis and rheumatism. For example, if you are overweight and suffer from arthritis, one of the most important things you can do to help yourself is to change the amount and type of food you eat. Recent research has also discovered several new links between arthritis and diet. It is also important to consider whether your regular diet is giving you all the important basic nutrients including minerals such as calcium and iron. If it does not, then your general health will suffer and this may have an effect on your arthritis – see the next section.

How can I change my diet (and lifestyle) to help my arthritis?

There are four golden rules you should follow to help your arthritis:

  • Eat a balanced and varied diet to maximize your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients you need which will help to keep your weight within the recommended range (see Figures 1, 2 and 3).
  • Change the type of fats and oils you eat and include oily fish.
  • Eat a more Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Take regular exercise.

Taken together, these measures are likely to be beneficial whatever type of arthritis you have. Current evidence suggests that oily fish is likely to be beneficial if you have an inflammatory type of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis). Oily fish helps protect against heart disease and is good for your health in general, but the strongest evidence that it can help arthritis relates to inflammatory arthritis.

Why is my weight so important?

The most important single link between your diet and arthritis is certainly your weight. Being overweight puts an extra burden on the weight-bearing joints (back, hips, knees, ankles and feet) when they are already damaged or under strain. Because of the way joints work, the pressure in your knee joints is 5–6 times your body weight when you walk. Even a small weight loss can make a big difference to your joints. If you are overweight and have arthritis in any of your weight-bearing joints losing weight will help you more than any food supplements. Too much body fat may also increase inflammation in the body, making your joints more painful. Some evidence for this can be seen in the fact that achieving a healthier weight can improve the results of blood tests for inflammation such as CRP (C-reactive protein) and ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate).

Occupational Therapists can advise a sufferer on Aids and Equipment that will improve their quality of life.

see: Occupational Therapy

Aids and Equipment

Focus on Disability has Disability Aids and Mobility Equipment useful for arthritis sufferers in various categories including:

Arthritis Aids
Bathing Aids
Feeding Aids
Kitchen Aids
Walking Aids

See the Disabled Product index at  Disability Aids and Mobility Equipment

Disabled Facilities Grant

If You or someone living in your property is disabled you may qualify for a disabled facilities grant towards the cost of providing adaptations and facilities to enable the disabled person to continue to live there. Such grants are given by local councils but it seems that budgets given for these grants can’t adequately satisfy need.

More information.

A Disabled Living Centre (DLC)is a place where you can get free and impartial information and advice about products which can increase disabled or older people’s choices about how they live. At a DLC you can see and try out products and explore other solutions. Centres provide free information to people in person, by telephone, letter or email.

See: Disabled Living Centres.

Arthritis Care: information and support to empower you to take control of your arthritis, to campaigning for change.

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society Website – provides support and information for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, their families, friends and carers, and health professionals with an interest in Rheumatoid Arthritis

The Arthritic Association – The Arthritic Association aims to relieve the suffering and pain of arthritis by natural methods.

The CCAA is a registered charity and provides a Support Network for children with arthritis and their families We aim to give practical help and support through our Network and Area Family Contacts, and to provide various educational and recreational opportunities for the children with JIA and their families.