Adjusting to Physical Limitations Caused by Arthritis

Exhausted woman with arthritis.
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Physical limitations are a consequence of arthritis. Joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and deformities can interfere with your ability to perform usual daily living activities, as well as leisure and work activities. Pain itself can be limiting, which is why so many arthritis treatments are aimed at reducing joint pain.

As cartilage wears away (osteoarthritis) or erodes because of inflammation (rheumatoid arthritis), the affected joint no longer functions normally. The range of motion of the joint is affected and you can't move like you used to. You've developed physical limitations.

How Intrusive Are Physical Limitations?

Like the severity of your disease, physical limitations can range from minor annoyances to major difficulties. Physical limitations may affect your ability to do what many people take for granted, such as:

  • Lifting 10 pounds
  • Walking one city block
  • Climbing stairs
  • Standing for 15 or 20 minutes
  • Bending to pick up an object from the floor
  • Reaching to get something out of a cupboard
  • Holding a writing instrument
  • Holding a coffee cup or soda can with one hand
  • Personal hygiene tasks

Move Thoughtfully

Using proper body mechanics and joint protection are important when you have physical limitations. You want to avoid stressing other muscles and joints because of a limited range of motion. In an effort to do things normally, you will need to consciously avoid overusing joints and risking further damage. That may mean that you need to look into assistive devices or adaptive equipment. It may point to the difficult realization that you can't do everything you want to do or used to do. You may need to ask for help, delegate, or hire help when necessary.

Respect Your Limitations

Rather than risk injury or further joint damage by ignoring your physical limitations, make the necessary adjustments to your environment to improve your situation. Lower items from higher shelves, install a railing along your steps, buy a reacher, consider using a cane. Do whatever you need to do to ensure your safety as you remain active and independent.

Therapists to Consult

You can get an assessment by an occupational therapist to help determine what modifications and adaptive equipment are best for you. This can improve your safety and comfort. A physical therapist can help recommend exercises that protect your joints and maintain your muscles, flexibility, and balance.

You're Not Alone

The CDC reports that 23.7 million adults 18 years of age or older have arthritis-attributable activity limitations. By 2040, that number is expected to rise to 35 million adults. The impact of physical limitations due to arthritis is significant. Of working-age adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis, 31 percent report being limited in their work. Also, 41 percent of adults with arthritis who volunteer report being limited in their abilities to do so because of arthritis. And, 27 percent of adults who do not volunteer report that arthritis is the reason why they don't.

A Word From Verywell

The good news about these grim statistics is that more and more kinds of adaptive equipment and modifications are being developed. You aren't limited to what you saw your grandparents using. Take advantage of them so you can have a more independent life despite your physical limitations.

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