What is arthritis?
The word arthritis means inflammation of the joint. It is a word used to describe several conditions that all come under the title 'arthritis' and include: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and gout.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect people of any age including the very young. It is a condition where the immune system which usually protects us from infection starts to attack the joints. The most common joints to be affected are the small joints of the fingers and toes, wrists, elbows, knees as well and the neck and jaw.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is where the surfaces of the joints become damaged and do not move freely causing symptoms such as pain, swelling and reduced strength. Knees, hips and small joints of the hands are the most commonly affected by the condition.
Gout is a form of arthritis where small crystals form inside and around the joints. It can cause episodes of severe pain and swelling.
Common arthritis symptoms are joint pain and swelling, reduced joint movement, weakness in joints and visible joint changes. These symptoms range in severity and can vary depending on the time of day.
What are the common difficulties associated with arthritis?
Arthritis typically causes pain and swelling in joints leading to challenges with day-to-day activities such as:
- Meal preparation - including filling and lifting pots and pans with water or food, using kitchen equipment such as knives and graters, opening jars and bottles, turning buttons for the oven, carrying plates or hot drinks
- Washing - including using small items such as toothbrushes and razors, squeezing tubes and bottles or turning on taps and showers
- Dressing and undressing - involving zips, buttons and fastenings, or putting on socks or tights
- Moving around the home - including managing the stairs, holding onto stair rails, getting on and off the toilet or up and down from other furniture such as chairs and beds
- Turning keys in locks
If you would like to learn more about how we as occupational therapists can help people overcome common difficulties associated with arthritis, you will find some useful links at the bottom of this page.
How can occupational therapy help people with arthritis?
Occupational therapy is an important source of support for clients with arthritis. The role of an occupational therapist (OT) is to work with clients to maximise their level of independence in day-to-day activities. We achieve this through assessments of client’s daily life to identify goals, routines and activities that they wish to maintain, protect or work towards.
An OT will work with a client with arthritis to identify the areas they are struggling with and help them find ways around these enabling them to lead life as fully as possible.
- Suggesting new techniques - to help complete everyday activities such as dressing and meal preparation
- Helping source the right equipment - to address difficulties as they arise such as finding the correct wheelchair, comfy chair or even small useful tools such as jar openers
- Making longer term recommendations - to ensure the home environment meets both current and future needs. This would include considering adaptations such as wet rooms or stair lifts
- Working with a client and / or their employer to advise on ways to keep them at work for as long as possible. This may involve pacing strategies to maximise energy levels, or workplace changes to ensure correct positioning