For most people, spending a day at home, taking a shower, preparing lunch in the kitchen, making a cup of tea, are things we take for granted, but for people living with arthritis, everyday tasks like these can be challenging.
There are 10 million people with arthritis in the UK and half of those people live in pain every day. The pain and fatigue can significantly impact a person’s ability to move freely – making it difficult for them to perform everyday tasks such as cooking, getting dressed or even sleeping.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over eight million people in the UK. It is most prominent in people in their late 40s and older, although it can affect people of all ages. Many people may refer to discomfort in their joints. This is because when a joint develops osteoarthritis, part of the cartilage between the bones thins, the surface becomes rougher and the joint doesn’t move as smoothly as it should, which can cause symptoms such as pain, swelling or stiffness.
This form of arthritis can affect any joint in the body but is most likely to affect the knees and feet – the joints that bear most of our weight. We use or over-use these joints in our everyday life, for example those in the hand, are commonly affected.
Pain in the joints caused by osteoarthritis tends to be worse at the end of the day. Joints may feel stiff after rest, but this usually wears off fairly quickly once someone gets moving.
Despite the impact arthritis can have on day-to-day life, there is support available. If you are experiencing pain from osteoarthritis, there are several options to help you to live a fulfilling life at home.
Susan Patey, 60, was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her mid-30s after having a number of sports injuries which affected her knees. The condition now affects her back, shoulders, hands and fingers. Sue has had several operations on her back and thumbs and at the end of last year she had surgery in her shoulder because the pain had become too much for her to manage.
Sue lives at home with her husband and two older sons. She used to work as a special need’s teacher, however, due to her condition she had to leave her job and she now spends a lot of time at home.
On a bad day, she finds managing the pain very difficult. “I have to take painkillers every morning before I get in the shower or get dressed, and I still struggle to put my cardigan on and do up the buttons.”
For Sue, it’s all about giving herself time “I think it’s important to know your own limits. I know it’s hard, but you have to pace yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do things and do not be afraid to ask for help.”
Sue starts the day early and spreads out her daily exercises, which help her to keep as mobile and pain-free as possible. “I do my physio exercises three times a day and this helps massively, especially with my shoulder. I also like Pilates and if I’m feeling strong enough, I will use my gym ball. I do little things like have my clothes ready and laid out the night before, which makes dressing the next day easier. I also wear clothes that are easy to put on – loose stretchy items without buttons and zips are great.”
Sue remains active at home: reading, catching up with the odd television show but her greatest hope is to start playing the saxophone again and to be part of a local musical ensemble. This will be dependent on Sue’s arm getting stronger and she accepts that her first passion as a flutist is something that she has left behind.
She explains how arthritis has affected her ability to play: “My passion is the flute but sadly I can’t do that anymore as my fingers don’t line up like they need to. I’m hoping I’ll get strong enough to play the saxophone again. I’ve always wanted to join the local wind band.”
“It’s a condition that you can’t see, which makes it hard for people to understand what it’s like to live in constant pain,” Sue continues. “Sometimes, even health care professionals don’t understand.”
It can be lonely at home when her family are out at work, but if Sue is looking for support she will often call the Versus Arthritis helpline.
“I’ve used the helpline many times. I call them when I don’t know what to do or if I’m struggling with the pain. It’s comforting to know there is someone on the end of the line who will listen and not make judgements about you. They can sympathise and suggest various ways to manage the pain.”
Big days out can be exhausting so Sue spreads these out to manage time and activities. It’s important she has something to look forward to each month. “I’m going to a Bon Jovi gig at the end of June; I’ve been to see him twice already. I know I will ache for a couple of days after, but I give myself time for this. In July I’m going to see the World’s strongest man at Wembley arena!”
“It’s important to let people know how you’re feeling and ask for help if you need it – whether it’s your friends, family or the Versus Arthritis helpline.”
Sue’s 5 top tips and advice
If you’d like to find out more about living with arthritis you can visit the Versus Arthritis website for more information, including tips and advice for managing your arthritis at home: https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/living-with-arthritis/.
They also offer an online community which connects people who share their experiences of living with arthritis, as well as a free helpline available on 0800 5200 520.