How Do People Live With Severe Arthritis?

Living with severe arthritis can be a significant challenge, impacting various aspects of daily life. From managing chronic pain to finding ways to still engage in activities and maintain a sense of independence, individuals with severe arthritis face unique obstacles. This article explores the strategies, treatments, and lifestyle adjustments that people adopt to navigate life with severe arthritis, offering insights and support for those who may be facing similar challenges. Living with severe arthritis can be challenging, but with the right medical treatments, self-care strategies, and lifestyle modifications, it is possible to manage the condition effectively. In this article, we will explore various approaches for improving daily life with arthritis, including pain management techniques, physical and occupational therapy, supportive assistive devices, emotional and psychological support, alternative and complementary therapies, and assistive technology. We will also discuss how to prepare for flare-ups and create a comfortable resting space.

Table of Contents

Medical Treatments

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

One of the most common medical treatments for arthritis is the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medications help relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and improve joint mobility. Examples of NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. It is important to keep in mind that NSAIDs can have side effects, such as stomach ulcers and increased risk of cardiovascular problems. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any NSAID treatment regimen.


Corticosteroids are another type of medication commonly used to manage arthritis symptoms. They are typically prescribed for short-term relief of pain and inflammation during flare-ups. Corticosteroids can be administered orally, through injections, or applied topically. However, long-term use of corticosteroids may have side effects such as weakened bones and increased risk of infections. It is important to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage and duration of corticosteroid use.

Disease-modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are a class of medications that work to slow down the progression of arthritis by suppressing the immune system. DMARDs are often prescribed for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune forms of arthritis. Examples of DMARDs include methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine. These medications may take several weeks to months to show their full effects, and regular monitoring is required to ensure they are working effectively and safely.

Biologic Response Modifiers

Biologic response modifiers, also known as biologics, are a newer class of medications that target specific components of the immune system involved in arthritis inflammation. Biologics are typically administered through injections or infusions and are commonly used for individuals with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. Examples of biologic medications include adalimumab, etanercept, and infliximab. Regular monitoring and adherence to the treatment plan are essential to ensure optimal results and minimize potential side effects.

Joint Replacement Surgery

For individuals with severe arthritis affecting their mobility and quality of life, joint replacement surgery may be an option. This surgical procedure involves the removal of damaged or diseased joints and replacing them with artificial joints, typically made of metal and plastic. Joint replacement surgery is most commonly performed on the knees and hips, but can also be done on other joints, such as the shoulders and elbows. It is important to thoroughly discuss the benefits, risks, and recovery process with a healthcare professional before considering joint replacement surgery.

Self-care Strategies

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for individuals with arthritis, as excess weight puts additional strain on the joints and can worsen pain and inflammation. It is important to follow a balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Portion control and regular physical activity can help manage weight and reduce arthritis symptoms.

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Exercise and Physical Therapy

Regular exercise and physical therapy are essential for managing arthritis symptoms and improving joint flexibility, strength, and function. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and walking are often recommended. Physical therapy sessions can provide personalized exercise programs, manual therapy, and guidance on proper body mechanics. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist to develop an exercise routine tailored to individual needs and abilities.

Using Assistive Devices

Assistive devices can greatly enhance mobility and independence for individuals with arthritis. Options include canes or walkers for additional support while walking, wrist and hand supports to provide stability and relieve pain, and orthotic shoe inserts to improve alignment and reduce joint stress. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist to determine the most appropriate assistive devices for specific needs.

Applying Heat and Cold Therapy

Heat and cold therapy can provide temporary relief from arthritis pain and inflammation. Applying a heating pad or warm towel to affected joints can help relax muscles and increase blood flow, promoting healing and reducing stiffness. Cold therapy, such as using ice packs or cold compresses, can help numb pain and reduce swelling. It is important to avoid applying heat or cold directly to the skin and to use these therapies in moderation.

Managing Stress and Mental Health

Living with severe arthritis can be emotionally challenging. Managing stress and maintaining good mental health is important for overall well-being. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or mindfulness, can help reduce stress. Additionally, seeking support from loved ones, joining support groups, or attending counseling or therapy sessions can provide valuable emotional support and coping strategies.

Lifestyle Modifications

Adopting a Joint-friendly Diet

In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, adopting a joint-friendly diet can help manage arthritis symptoms. Certain foods, such as those rich in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., fatty fish), antioxidants (e.g., fruits and vegetables), and anti-inflammatory properties (e.g., nuts and seeds), may have beneficial effects on arthritis inflammation. Conversely, foods high in saturated fats, processed sugars, and refined carbohydrates may exacerbate symptoms.

Getting Enough Sleep

Adequate sleep is crucial for individuals with arthritis, as it allows the body to repair and rejuvenate itself. Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep can lead to increased pain, fatigue, and decreased ability to cope with daily activities. Establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and practicing good sleep hygiene habits can help improve the quality and duration of sleep.

Avoiding Triggering Activities

Identifying and avoiding activities that worsen arthritis symptoms is important for managing the condition. Certain repetitive movements, high-impact exercises, or activities involving heavy lifting may put excessive strain on the joints and exacerbate pain and inflammation. It is important to listen to the body’s cues and modify activities or seek alternative options to minimize joint stress.

Balancing Rest and Activity

Finding the right balance between rest and activity is crucial for individuals with arthritis. While it is important to stay active to maintain joint flexibility and strengthen muscles, it is equally important to allow for periods of rest to prevent overexertion and reduce the risk of flare-ups. Listening to the body’s needs and pacing activities accordingly can help maintain an optimal balance.

Creating an Accessible Living Environment

Modifying the living environment to make it more accessible and comfortable can greatly enhance daily life with arthritis. Installing grab bars and railings in bathrooms and stairways, using adaptive kitchen aids to make meal preparation easier, and arranging furniture for optimal accessibility can all contribute to a more accommodating living space. Consulting with an occupational therapist can provide valuable insights and recommendations for creating a more accessible environment.

Pain Management Techniques

Over-the-counter Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can provide temporary relief from arthritis pain. It is important to follow the recommended dosage and consult with a healthcare professional to ensure these medications are safe and suitable for individual needs.

Topical Creams and Ointments

Topical creams and ointments containing ingredients such as capsaicin or menthol can be applied directly to the skin to provide localized pain relief. These products work by numbing the area or reducing inflammation. It is important to follow the instructions provided and consult with a healthcare professional if there are any concerns.


Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body. It is believed to help restore the flow of energy and alleviate pain. Some individuals with arthritis find acupuncture to be helpful in managing their symptoms. It is important to consult with a licensed acupuncturist and discuss the potential benefits and risks before trying this approach.

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Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a pain management technique that involves the use of a small device that delivers low-voltage electrical currents to the affected area. The electrical stimulation can help reduce pain signals and promote the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. TENS units are generally safe for home use but should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional or physical therapist.

Mind-Body Therapies

Mind-body therapies, such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation, focus on the connection between the mind and body to promote relaxation and pain management. These therapies can help improve flexibility, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being. It is important to choose a reputable instructor or practitioner and inform them about any specific needs or limitations.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Range of Motion Exercises

Range of motion exercises are designed to maintain or improve joint flexibility and mobility. These exercises involve gentle movements that target specific joints or muscle groups. A physical therapist can provide guidance on appropriate range of motion exercises for specific joints affected by arthritis.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening exercises help build muscle strength around the affected joints, providing improved support and stability. These exercises typically involve using resistance bands, weights, or bodyweight exercises. It is important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercises under the guidance of a healthcare professional or physical therapist.

Splints and Braces

Splints and braces can be useful for individuals with arthritis, as they provide support, reduce pain, and help maintain proper alignment of joints. A healthcare professional or occupational therapist can recommend and fit splints or braces tailored to individual needs and joint affected.

Assistive Devices Training

Learning how to properly use assistive devices, such as canes or walkers, is essential for maximizing their benefits and preventing further joint damage. A physical therapist or occupational therapist can provide training on how to use these devices correctly and safely.

Energy Conservation Techniques

Energy conservation techniques aim to help individuals with arthritis manage fatigue and conserve energy for important activities. These techniques involve planning and pacing activities, using proper body mechanics, and taking regular breaks. A healthcare professional or occupational therapist can provide guidance on implementing energy conservation techniques into daily routines.

Supportive Assistive Devices

Wrist and Hand Supports

Wrist and hand supports, such as splints or braces, can provide stability and relieve pain for individuals with arthritis in the hands and wrists. These devices help reduce stress on the joints, allowing for better function and pain management.

Canes and Walkers

Canes and walkers can provide additional support and stability for individuals with arthritis affecting their mobility. These assistive devices help redistribute weight and reduce strain on the joints, allowing for more independent and safe movement.

Orthotic Shoe Inserts

Orthotic shoe inserts, also known as orthotics or shoe orthoses, are designed to improve foot alignment, reduce joint stress, and provide additional cushioning and support. They can help relieve foot and ankle pain associated with arthritis and enhance overall foot function.

Adaptive Kitchen Aids

Adaptive kitchen aids, such as jar openers, utensils with larger handles, or cutting boards with built-in clamps, can make meal preparation easier and safer for individuals with arthritis in the hands or wrists. These aids provide better grip, leverage, and stability while performing kitchen tasks.

Grab Bars and Railings

Installing grab bars and railings in bathrooms, stairways, and other areas of the home can greatly improve safety and accessibility for individuals with arthritis. These supportive devices provide stability and assist with maintaining balance and preventing falls.

Emotional and Psychological Support

Counseling and Therapy

Counseling or therapy can be beneficial for individuals with arthritis, as it provides a safe space to discuss fears, concerns, and coping strategies. A mental health professional can help individuals develop effective strategies for managing emotions, reducing anxiety or depression, and improving overall mental well-being.

Support Groups

Joining a support group can provide a valuable sense of community and understanding for individuals with arthritis. Support groups allow individuals to share experiences, exchange information, and learn from others who are going through similar challenges. These groups can be in-person or online.

Online Communities

Online communities and forums provide a convenient platform for individuals with arthritis to connect, seek advice, and share resources. These communities can offer a sense of belonging, as well as valuable information and support.

Stress Management Programs

Participating in stress management programs or workshops can help individuals with arthritis learn effective techniques for reducing stress, improving coping skills, and enhancing overall well-being. These programs may include relaxation exercises, mindfulness practices, or cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches.

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Mindfulness and Meditation

Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help individuals with arthritis reduce stress, improve focus, and manage pain. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment, while meditation focuses on training the mind to achieve a state of deep relaxation and heightened awareness. There are numerous guided mindfulness and meditation resources available online or through mobile applications.

Alternative and Complementary Therapies

Herbal Supplements

Herbal supplements, such as turmeric or ginger, are sometimes used by individuals with arthritis for their potential anti-inflammatory properties. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any herbal supplements, as they may interact with other medications or have potential side effects.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can provide relief from arthritis pain, reduce muscle tension, and improve joint mobility. Various massage techniques, such as Swedish massage or deep tissue massage, can be effective in promoting relaxation and reducing inflammation. It is important to choose a licensed and experienced massage therapist who is knowledgeable about arthritis.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care involves the manipulation of the spine and other joints to improve alignment and reduce pain. Some individuals with arthritis find chiropractic adjustments helpful in managing their symptoms. It is important to consult with a licensed chiropractor and discuss the potential benefits and risks before trying this approach.

Yoga and Tai Chi

Yoga and tai chi are gentle forms of exercise that focus on breathing, movement, and mindfulness. These practices can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance, while also promoting relaxation and reducing stress. It is important to choose classes specifically designed for individuals with arthritis and inform the instructor about any limitations or concerns.


Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils derived from plants to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and manage pain. Some essential oils, such as lavender or peppermint, may have analgesic or anti-inflammatory effects. It is important to use essential oils safely, following appropriate dilution guidelines and consulting with a healthcare professional if there are any concerns.

Assistive Technology

Voice-Activated Devices

Voice-activated devices, such as smart speakers or virtual assistants, can be useful for individuals with arthritis who may have difficulty typing or operating electronic devices. These devices allow for hands-free control of tasks, such as setting reminders, making phone calls, or searching the internet.

Adaptive Computer Tools

Adaptive computer tools, such as ergonomic keyboards, mouse alternatives, or voice recognition software, can help individuals with arthritis continue using computers or other digital devices with less strain on the hands and wrists. These tools can improve comfort and reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries.

Specialized Gripping Aids

Specialized gripping aids, such as jar openers or pen grips, can assist individuals with arthritis in performing tasks that require a strong grip. These aids provide additional leverage and support, making it easier to open jars, hold utensils, or write.

Ergonomic Assistive Devices

Ergonomic assistive devices, such as specially designed ergonomic chairs, cushions, or adaptive utensils, are specifically designed to reduce strain and improve comfort while performing daily activities. These devices can help individuals with arthritis maintain better posture and reduce joint stress.

Environmental Control Units

Environmental control units allow individuals with arthritis to control various aspects of their home environment, such as lights, temperature, or entertainment systems, through a single device. These units can be especially helpful for individuals with limited mobility or difficulties with manual dexterity.

Preparing for Flare-ups

Creating a Flare-up Plan

Creating a flare-up plan can help individuals with arthritis effectively manage periods of increased pain or inflammation. This plan should include strategies for pain management, modifications to daily activities, and a support network to assist during flare-ups. It is important to discuss and document the plan with healthcare professionals and loved ones.

Building a Support Network

Building a strong support network is crucial for individuals with arthritis, especially during flare-ups. Friends, family, and healthcare professionals can provide assistance, emotional support, and help with daily tasks or accessing medical care. It is important to communicate needs and preferences to loved ones and establish a reliable support system.

Having Emergency Contacts

Having a list of emergency contacts readily available is essential for individuals with arthritis. This list should include healthcare professionals, family members, friends, and neighbors who can be called upon during an emergency or flare-up. It is important to inform these contacts about specific needs and ensure they are aware of the individual’s condition and potential emergency measures.

Stocking Essential Medications

Ensuring an adequate supply of essential medications is important for managing arthritis, especially during flare-ups. Regularly monitoring medication levels and restocking as needed can help prevent unnecessary disruptions in treatment. It is also important to have a medication list or card that details dosage, frequency, and any allergies or side effects.

Creating a Comfortable Resting Space

Creating a comfortable resting space is crucial for individuals with arthritis, particularly during flare-ups. This space should be equipped with supportive pillows or cushions, a heating pad or ice pack, and any necessary assistive devices or aids. Ensuring the environment is calm, quiet, and conducive to relaxation can help promote healing and comfort.

Living with severe arthritis can be challenging, but with the right combination of medical treatments, self-care strategies, lifestyle modifications, pain management techniques, physical and occupational therapy, supportive assistive devices, emotional and psychological support, alternative and complementary therapies, assistive technology, and proper preparation for flare-ups, it is possible to effectively manage the condition and improve quality of life. Remember to consult with healthcare professionals and work closely with a healthcare team to create a personalized plan that addresses individual needs and goals. You are not alone in managing arthritis, and with the right support and strategies, you can live a fulfilling life despite the challenges it presents.