Arthritis is a condition that causes stiffness and swelling in the joints. One in six of us have arthritis and one in five will consult a GP about a musculoskeletal problem each year. It is the leading cause of pain and disability in the UK. Arthritis can start at any age with one in 1000 children under the age of 16 affected by it.
Despite these staggering figures, there still isn't enough awareness about the condition and the impact that it has on millions of people across the country. Over 75% of people with arthritis say that society doesn't understand what it's like to live with it. And sadly, over half of the UK population doesn't see arthritis as a major health condition or have never thought about it before - this needs to change.
Today (12th October) marks the 22nd World Arthritis Day, an initiative of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), which brings people together globally to raise awareness of the issues affecting people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs), including arthritis.
This week also marks Bone and Joint Week, an initiative of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA), of which I am a Trustee and Arthritis Action is a member of. The campaign seeks to highlight the importance of musculoskeletal health, and the need to effectively prevent and manage the conditions which affect it.
So what can we do to further raise awareness of the condition and make it a national health priority? At Arthritis Action, we run Groups in local areas to bring people together to discuss their everyday challenges with arthritis, be it getting out of bed in the mornings to go to work or simply opening a can of soup. We believe that by helping communities on a local level we can have a bigger impact on the wider community, and we're doing all we can to improve symptoms and lives for people with arthritis everywhere.
What we need is for people with arthritis to speak up about their condition and how it affects every aspect of their lives. By speaking to friends and family members, or reaching out to local groups, more and more people will learn about the condition and its impact on everyday life.
We, along with other charities and organisations, also need to work hand-in-hand with healthcare professionals and carers to reach people on the ground, offering information and support, and helping anyone with arthritis to receive the care they deserve.
We want the musculoskeletal community to come together and work towards making arthritis a national health priority for years to come, so that future generations understand the day-to-day realities of living with arthritis, and the fact that it is not an "older person's disease". But this can only be achieved if the health and policy community come together to explore how they can tackle musculoskeletal issues on both the local and national level. The more people understand the condition and talk about it, the greater the traction it will receive, and the closer we will be to making arthritis a national health priority.
Shantel is CEO of UK charity Arthritis Action and a Trustee of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA).