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Health Update

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Courtesy of Russell R Van Hemert DC

Caring for Someone With Arthritis

Advice From a Physical Therapist

By Brett Sears, PT | Reviewed by a board-certified physician

Updated February 11, 2018

Caring for a friend or family member with arthritis can be a challenging—yet rewarding—experience. Your loved one may have difficulty managing various components of the disease process, and being available as a trusted ally in their care can make a positive difference. But what are the best ways to help someone with arthritis?

If you have arthritis, then you know how the stiffness and pain can limit your ability to move and function properly.

The pain from arthritis can prevent you from walking properly, using your hands and arms, and enjoying your normal work and recreational activities. Encouraging family members and friends to help with your care can ensure that you manage your condition well and remain functionally independent as long as possible.

Effects of Arthritis

There are different types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and everyone experiences different symptoms of varying levels of severity when they have arthritis. Some common traits of arthritis may include:

Your loved one may have trouble with some tasks that may seem basic, or he or she may have difficulty managing activities that require the use of the legs, arms, or both. Understanding how their arthritis affects their day-to-day functional mobility can help you provide the best care for your friend or loved one.

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There are some things that you can do (or simply keep in mind) when caring for someone with arthritis. These may include:

  • Understand their condition. Having a clear understanding of your loved one's arthritis condition can help you determine where he or she may need assistance. For example, if your loved one has rheumatoid arthritis that affects their hand and upper extremity movement, he or she may need assistance with opening bottles and jars or managing fine motor tasks like handling medication. A person with knee osteoarthritis may have difficulty walking and navigating stairs.
  • Keep open lines of communication. Talking with your loved one or friend about their condition is a great way to understand how it affects them. And don't be shy about sharing your feelings about caring for someone; providing care and helping someone consistently may take an emotional toll on you.
  • Know when to help and when to stand back. Most people with arthritis want to remain as independent as possible. It may seem like a good idea to step in and assist with walking, bed mobility, or with tasks that require reaching. But be sure your loved one has the opportunity to be as functionally independent as possible, and know that he or she will ask for assistance when needed.
  • Help manage medication. Sometimes managing arthritis means managing various medicines. If your loved one has difficulty keeping drugs and dosages straight—or if they physically have difficulty handling medicine—be available to help.
  • Help with managing assistive devices. Some people with arthritis require assistive devices, like canes or walkers, to get around. Sometimes using these devices can be clunky or difficult to figure out. You may help your friend or loved one with arthritis by taking a few moments to learn how their assistive device should be used and how to operate it properly.
  • Encourage and help with exercise. Exercise has been proven to be beneficial for many people with arthritis. The movement helps keep joints lubricated and muscles strong. Plus, exercise can help maintain or improve functional mobility. But exercising can seem like a painful or daunting task for someone with arthritis. Encouraging exercise and helping your loved one perform their exercises properly is a great way to provide care for someone with arthritis. Plus, if your loved one requires joint surgery, you may be able to help with the post-operative exercises.

Keep in mind that your friend or loved one may go through periods where your care and assistance is welcomed and times when they wish to go it alone.

Try to remain flexible in your care, providing help when it is absolutely necessary and when it is welcomed.

How Physical Therapy Can Help

Physical therapists are considered movement experts, and most are trained to assess and treat people with various forms of arthritis. If your friend or loved one has arthritis, encouraging them to visit a PT is a great way to learn strategies to effectively manage their condition.

If your loved one is going to therapy, ask if it is acceptable to tag along and see what is done. Be sure to remain non-obtrusive, but perhaps ask a few questions to get some pointers on how you can assist your loved one in their arthritis management.

Arthritis can be a tricky disease to manage, as it affects everyone differently with variable symptoms. Watching a friend or loved one struggle with arthritis management can be difficult, so finding ways to help can ensure that your friend or family member has the right support necessary to properly treat the symptoms and functional impairments that come with arthritis.


Feldthusen, C. et al. Effects of person-centered physical therapy on fatigue-related variables in persons with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Phys Med and Rehab: 97(1); 2016: 26-36.

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