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Caring for Arthritis: A Guide for Compassionate Caregivers

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September 13, 2023
Woman with arthritis on her hands

As people age, many experience pain and stiffness in the joints. This type of pain is an indicator for arthritis, a disease that causes tenderness and swelling in one or more joints. Arthritis is a widespread condition. The Center for Disease Control states that 24% of all adults in the United States have some form of arthritis. 

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 types of arthritis, although four types are the most common. They include osteoarthritis, autoimmune inflammatory arthritis, infectious arthritis and gout. Of these, the most frequently occurring type is osteoarthritis, which typically occurs as people age, anywhere from age 50 and over. While there are many different types of arthritis, they all cause pain, swelling and stiffness. This can adversely impact every part of life from performing daily tasks at work and home to pursuing interests and hobbies.

What is Arthritis?

The term arthritis refers to joint pain or joint disease caused by inflammation and the deterioration of the cartilage that surrounds and cushions the bones of the joints. As the condition progresses, the inflammation can also attack the ligaments and linings of the joint and weaken bones. Severe forms of inflammatory arthritis can even impact other organs including the heart and lungs. 

As affected joints become inflamed and swell, the patient experiences diminished range of motion. Bending or moving arthritic joints can become increasingly difficult and painful. Pain and stiffness may cover a wide spectrum from mild to severe, but you should not take it lightly. Arthritis pain often increases with age, adversely impacting the ability to perform daily tasks and enjoy hobbies and activities. 

The following information is for those who suffer from arthritis as well as loved ones and caregivers taking care of an arthritic patient. It includes an overview of the types of arthritis, the factors involved, and guidance on how to effectively manage arthritis and control pain to improve quality of life. 

Common Types of Arthritis 

The following is an overview of the major types of arthritis:


Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. In the United States, over 32.5 million people have this disease, according to the CDC. The onset of osteoarthritis is typically at age 50 years and older. It is not uncommon for symptoms to become more severe as people age. Arthritis symptoms can include pain, stiffness, lack of flexibility, a decreased range of motion, and inflammation causing redness and swelling of the affected joint.

Osteoarthritis occurs as the cartilage in the joint starts to break down. This ultimately leads to a bone-on-bone connection with no cushion. This can cause changes to the bone making joint movement painful and difficult. The primary joints affected by osteoarthritis are the knees, hips, lower back, neck and hands. A doctor needs to diagnose osteoarthritis, typically using X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The treatment a health care provider recommends will vary according to the patient’s pain level, lifestyle and ability to perform daily tasks. 

Treatment can range from physical therapy and pain relievers to joint replacement surgery. And in fact, replacing seriously deteriorated joints – especially hips and knees – has become quite prevalent. According to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), close to 790,000 knee replacements and 450,000 hip replacements are performed in the U.S. each year. However, before a physician recommends surgery, he or she will likely prescribe physical therapy or exercises to strengthen muscles, and/or cortisone shots to reduce inflammation. For knees, injections of hyaluronic acid, such as Durolane, can lubricate the bones and postpone the need for surgery by months and even years. 

Osteoarthritis Factors

There are several factors that increase the likelihood someone will develop osteoarthritis including:

  • Age: The chances of developing osteoarthritis increase with age. Those 50 years and older are most likely to have symptoms.
  • Overuse and Injury: People whose jobs require repetitive use of the same joints are at increased risk. Those who have injured the ligaments around a joint (often a sports injury) are also more likely to develop osteoarthritis. 
  • Overweight: The strain on joints from excess weight can be a complicating factor in osteoarthritis. In addition, people who are obese can have problems with inflammation caused by fat cells.
  • Inherited Genes: Although osteoarthritis can affect anyone, genetics does play a role. People with family members who have this form of arthritis are much more likely to develop it.
  • Abnormalities or Weak Muscles: Abnormalities in joint construction or weak muscles around joints can lead to a misalignment of joint bones. This makes osteoarthritis more likely to develop.
  • Gender: More women than men suffer from all forms of musculoskeletal disorders, including arthritis. According to the National Institute of Health 65% of women vs. 30% of men suffer from these diseases.

Inflammatory Arthritis

Inflammatory arthritis encompasses a group of autoimmune disorders that includes rheumatic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile arthritis and gout. Infectious arthritis is inflammatory, but it is caused by bacteria or virus rather than an autoimmune response. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common disease in this group. In autoimmune inflammatory arthritis, the body begins to attack the healthy tissues instead of attacking germs, viruses or foreign substances. When this level of arthritic inflammation occurs, it  means the immune system is attacking joint tissue. This results in joint damage leading to pain, stiffness, swelling and redness. In its severest forms, inflammatory arthritis can alter joints and deformities can develop. This condition can also affect children. Obtaining medical care early is crucial so that doctors can treat damaging inflammation and mitigate the worst symptoms. The following information focuses on rheumatoid arthritis, the most common form of  autoimmune inflammatory arthritis:

Inflammatory Arthritis Factors

  • Age: Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis usually strikes between the ages of 30 and 60.
  • Pain and Swelling: In rheumatoid arthritis, the disease attacks the synovium. This is the tissue lining of joints that makes the fluid that cushions them and helps them move smoothly. As inflammation develops, this fluid gets thicker and the joint becomes red, swollen and painful to move.
  • Origins: Although scientists aren’t sure why certain individuals develop rheumatoid arthritis, an external event such as bacteria, a virus, or some sort of physical or emotional stress may trigger a genetic factor.
  • Multiple Joints Involved: One factor that distinguishes rheumatoid arthritis from osteoarthritis is that it usually involves more than one joint. Also, it affects the same joint on each side of the body.
  • Organ Damage: Because this form of arthritis causes serious inflammation, it can damage organs, including the heart, lungs and blood vessels. That’s why treating and abating inflammation is critical. 
  • Small Joints: Rheumatoid arthritis usually attacks small joints first – hands, feet and wrists.
  • Fatigue and Fever: Some people with rheumatoid arthritis experience significant daytime fatigue, or they may have a low-grade fever. These symptoms can vary from day to day, although inflammation can flare up and last for weeks.
  • Other Inflammatory Arthritis Diseases: Although they occur less frequently and have many similar symptoms, other forms of this condition have distinctive characteristics in addition to the pain and swelling of affected joints:
    • Psoriatic Arthritis: Most symptoms of this disease are similar to rheumatoid arthritis. However, this type produces a skin rash – the same as psoriasis – that accompanies the swollen and painful joints. The rash can appear either before or after the joint symptoms. 
    • Gout: This form of inflammatory arthritis is caused by an excess of uric acid in the blood. When there is too much uric acid, the kidneys can’t process it. The body deposits the extra uric acid into the joints, typically in the big toe or lower leg, where it forms crystals. These deposits are what causes the inflammation, pain and stiffness of gout.
    • Infectious Arthritis: This type, also called septic arthritis, occurs when bacteria or a virus infects a joint. There are many ways this can happen including a wound or animal bite. The bacteria can also travel via the bloodstream from another part of the body. It emerges suddenly and is usually treated with antibiotics. After the infection heals, patients will need to build back their strength through exercise and eating a healthy diet.
    • Juvenile Arthritis: This disease typically attacks children under the age of 16. It has all the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis but the causes are idiopathic, meaning no cause has been scientifically determined. 

Guidelines when Caring for an Arthritis Patient or Loved One

The following are some guidelines for successfully managing arthritis whether you are caring for an arthritic patient or loved one or you have arthritis: 

  • Obtain a Diagnosis Early: With all forms of arthritis, particularly the inflammatory kinds that can develop earlier in life, getting a diagnosis and treatment from a healthcare professional is crucial to successful management of the disease and its symptoms. If you feel you or a loved one or patient is experiencing any symptoms, such as joint pain, redness, swelling and stiffness, see a physician as soon as possible.
  • Follow Healthcare Professional’s Advice: Following the advice of a physician or other healthcare professional is crucial to recovery and management of arthritic diseases. This includes ensuring that you take any prescription drugs as prescribed and following other guidelines to ease pain, increase range of motion, and improve your quality of life.
  • Manage Pain: A physician may recommend prescription pain relievers for severe pain. However, arthritis pain that’s not too severe can often be controlled with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. There are also topical pain relievers such as numm Cool Freeze that are applied to the affected joint externally. Another important pain management tool is hot and cold packs. These are especially helpful after an exercise session or other physical activity. A physician or physical therapists can provide information on how best to use them.
  • Manage Inflammation: Closely monitoring and reducing inflammation is especially important for patients with autoimmune or infectious arthritis. Because inflammation can be damaging to the body beyond just joints, it needs to be minimized as much as possible. NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen can be helpful, as well as drugs that target inflammation and are prescribed by a healthcare provider.
  • Use Physical Therapy: Doctors often use physical therapy to treat arthritis. It typically involves employing exercises designed to stabilize the affected joints. Physical therapists are experts in movement and experienced in dealing with arthritis patients and their needs. A physician will determine whether a patient’s arthritis makes them a good candidate for physical therapy treatments.
  • Encourage Daily Exercise:  Whether the arthritis patient receives physical therapy or not, it’s important that they keep moving. Here are some tips:
    • When engaged in an exercise regimen, arthritic patients should be sure to warm up with stretching exercises before beginning each exercise session and cooling down after finishing.
    • Daily activities such as walking, biking and swimming will not only benefit overall health but can help strengthen the muscles supporting arthritic joints. 
    • Daily exercises that include stretching, aerobic or cardio workouts and balance training will also strengthen the leg muscles needed to support arthritic knees and ankles. 
    • It’s important to exercise range of motion but it shouldn’t be done to the point that it causes more pain.  It may help to take pain relievers prophylactically before exercising. 
    • There are also a range of tools for exercising arthritic joints such as exercise bands, hand grips and pedal exercisers. These can help improve range of motion and strengthen muscles without over-exertion. A physician or physical therapist can provide recommendations for the best tools depending on your patient’s condition.
  • Establish Healthy Eating and Weight Management: Obesity is especially hard on arthritic joints. Although obesity is not the only factor in developing osteoarthritis, additional weight increases the stress on affected joints. That’s why a healthy diet that limits the amount of sugar and fat consumed is a vital part of regaining strength and preventing the worsening of symptoms. Maintaining a healthy weight can also be a factor in delaying or preventing the onset of osteoarthritis.
  • Use Support Tools: Tools that protect joints such as support sleeves for elbow and knee joints can help arthritis patients pursue daily activities with less stress on the joints. It’s also important that patients and loved ones are protected against falls, whether they are recovering from joint surgery or dealing with moderate to severe symptoms of arthritis. Check out our article on Choosing the Best Mobility Aids for Seniors to get informed and keep them safe.
  • Reduce Stress: Pursuing hobbies or participating in positive relaxation techniques such as meditation can help mitigate the stress caused by arthritis. 

Count on HonestMed for Arthritis Management Products

Because most forms of arthritis are chronic and can worsen over time, dealing with these diseases is challenging for both caregivers and patients. Following the recommendations of a physician or other healthcare professional is crucial. However, as the guidelines provided here show, there are lifestyle habits and support products that can help reduce pain, improve mobility and ease the burden on the caregiver and the care recipient. HonestMed is here with the products you need to provide the best care possible. Learn more by speaking to an HonestMed Care Specialist at (833) 933-2323. We’re here to provide you with product knowledge, support, and expertise to ensure you get the right products for your unique needs and budget. Check out our other published articles on caregiving and more!

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