Arthritis and Activities of Daily Living

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis, and other rheumatic conditions are recognized as the leading cause of disability in the United States. Of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis, 35 million, or 44%, report activity limitations attributable to arthritis.

People who live with joint pain, swelling, and damage to weight-bearing joints (i.e. hips, knees, ankles, feet) caused by arthritis have mobility issues which affect their ability to work and perform common daily tasks.



Man walking with cane

Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

Arthritis medications and other arthritis treatments can reduce symptoms which interfere with mobility. Joint replacement surgery is an option for many people with severe arthritis who have not been sufficiently helped by more conservative treatment options. People who have mobility impairments may also find these adaptive equipment useful:

  • Canes
  • Walkers and Rolling Walkers
  • Wheelchairs
  • Mobility Scooters
  • Handicapped Parking

Climbing Stairs

Climbing stairs is a normal activity that is often taken for granted. Stairs can be problematic for people with arthritis who have physical limitations caused by hip, knee, ankle, foot or even back pain. Shifting weight from one leg to the other in order to maneuver steps is at least challenging and sometimes impossible. Wearing foot support, ankle support, knee support, or back support can add stability and make it safer for some people when climbing stairs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among adults in the United States with doctor-diagnosed arthritis, many report having difficulty climbing stairs.

Because of ​a large number of people affected, accessibility to buildings is a major issue for people living with arthritis and other physical disabilities. It can become an issue in a person's own home if they have a staircase which becomes difficult to navigate. Stairs are also problematic for people who use walkers and wheelchairs



Many common daily activities require some degree of kneeling, bending, or stooping. Pain and stiffness of the hip, knee, ankle, and back can greatly affect a person's ability to move to a lower position. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many adults in the United States with doctor-diagnosed arthritis have significant limitations when kneeling, bending, or stooping.

Assistive devices specially designed with longer handles can help compensate for a limited range of motion. Ergonomic handles are becoming quite common in household cleaning tools, garden tools, and kitchen equipment.


Good Grooming

Everyone likes to look their best. Men who are clean-shaven or who have neatly trimmed beards or mustaches and women with perfect hairdos and makeup applied make looking good seem effortless. For people with arthritis, a simple thing like brushing hair can cause great pain and other grooming tasks which require manual dexterity can be a challenge. Wrist, hand, elbow, shoulder, and neck pain or stiffness can limit the range of motion needed for good grooming.

Dressing oneself can also be difficult for people with physical limitations. People with arthritis are forced to adapt and adjust. Less time spent on grooming and simpler ways of dressing (e.g., Velcro and elastic are easier than shoelaces and buttons) become necessary.



There is a Health Assessment Questionnaire that is used by some rheumatologists to check the progress of a patient's ability to perform daily living tasks or activities. The questionnaire asks if you are able to wash and dry your body, take a tub bath, and get on and off the toilet with ease. The also asks if you use assistive equipment to help you accomplish hygiene tasks.

Many assistive devices are available which include long-handles, additional seat height, or grab bars for stability.


Gripping of the Fingers

Think of every ordinary task which requires a person to move their hands and grip objects. During the course of the day, you have to pick up many objects to use them. You pick up cups, glasses, pens, plates, silverware, and keys to name a few. You also grip door knobs, door handles, faucet handles. There are myriad examples but the point is that people with arthritis can have trouble gripping objects.

Built-up handles, specially designed objects which add leverage, and lever handles are examples of adaptations which improve an environment for people with arthritis.


Ability to Reach

The Health Assessment Questionnaire was developed in 1978 by James Fries and colleagues at Stanford University. Two important questions asked in the questionnaire: Can you reach and get down a 5-pound object from above your head? Are you able to bend down to pick up clothing from the floor?


Cleaning & Housework

Just as everyone cares about their appearance, people like to take care of their living environment. Cleaning house and other housework is a big challenge for people living with arthritis. Movements required for sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, and other cleaning tasks can worsen joint pain and swelling.​

Enormous frustration can result from wanting to do work that needs to be done, yet realizing you are unable to do it yourself. Some adaptive equipment makes it a bit easier.



Picking up a fork or spoon and lifting food to your mouth, or picking up a knife to cut your meat then using the fork to lift the meat to your mouth. It's just natural for healthy people to eat and not think of every motion required.

The Health Assessment Questionnaire asks three questions about eating: Can you cut your meat? Can you lift a cup or glass to your mouth? Are you able to open a new milk carton? Adaptive equipment which improves symptoms associated with your fingers, wrist, or elbow may help.


Religious and Social Activities

Pain and discomfort associated with arthritis can be overwhelming and some people react by eliminating optional activities, such as going to church or socializing. Once eliminated, isolation fills the void and depression soon follows.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many adults in the United States with doctor-diagnosed arthritis report significant limitation in their ability to socialize.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis Disabilities and Limitations.

  2. Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis Treatment.

  3. Brown University. Health Assessment Questionnaire.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.