Over 10 million people live with arthritis in the UK today. This figure is expected to increase by 50% by 2030i. It is a debilitating condition and is the leading cause of pain and disability nationwide. Because it affects so many people across the country, it is important to understand their attitudes towards arthritis and how they choose to manage it.

"Arthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability nationwide."

When people first experience joint pain or stiffness, they often rush to see their GP to check what’s going on. In fact, one in five people see a GP about a musculoskeletal problem each year. This makes sense, what else would they do? The GP then refers them to a rheumatologist who then diagnoses them with arthritis or a similar condition. Then what?

 

After a diagnosis...

 

Doctors then give patients medication for the pain and possibly a plan for physiotherapy or joint replacement surgery if need be, but that’s about it. Most patients have heightened expectations from their medical practitioners, and keep going back to see their doctors expecting a treatment or cure, causing the NHS to be even more overstretched. In fact, treating the two most common forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, will cost the NHS £10.2bn this year alone, and will exceed £118.6bn over the next decadeii.

 

Beyond the doctor

 

So what are people with arthritis meant to do if medication or repeat doctor visits aren’t working for them? A lot, actually. Enter self-management.

"Giving people the confidence and ability to manage their condition themselves."

What is self-management? Self-management of arthritis is about encouraging people with arthritis to have the confidence and ability to manage their condition themselves and reduce the need for medical intervention. It’s about looking at the various techniques that can help improve the symptoms of arthritis, including diet, exercise, physical therapy, and pain management education.

A recent study in 2012 endorsed various self-management strategies to help with arthritis pain management, including exercise, activity pacing, and social interactionsiii. Another study cited the importance of seeking information as another useful self-management tactic for people with rheumatoid arthritisiv, although this holds true for people with any form of arthritis.

 

Support from others

 

In addition to the above strategies, UK charity Arthritis Action, which I am CEO of, also organises local education and support Groups in various areas across the country to encourage people with arthritis to come together to share information and useful tips on living with the condition. We have found that these Groups have been very helpful for many of our members. And this is very much on par with findings from a recent study by Lee et al. in 2012v, showing that people with rheumatoid arthritis who participated in group activities, in their case Tai Chi, had increased confidence levels in managing their pain, and improved mood.

"40% of people with arthritis feel isolated."

Furthermore, research we commissioned in 2015vi revealed that around 40% of people with arthritis feel isolated and that there is no one they could talk to who understands what they go through. This is why organising local groups is so important, to enable people with arthritis to come together and socialise with likeminded people who understand what it’s like to live with the condition.

It’s imperative to encourage people with arthritis to reach out to their local communities and seek information from local community centres and charities to learn how to incorporate self-management activities into their daily lives. They will quickly learn that the benefits of self-management are quite substantial and can lead them towards living an active life and experiencing life to the full.