Why I Struggled Coming to Terms With Arthritis...And I Don't Even Have It

My mum has osteoarthritis and, as a result, she has to take tablets every day, can't walk for long distances and has sometimes struggled with everyday tasks she would have previously found easy.

It almost happened overnight... One day my mum had boundless energy, she was carrying beds and sofas up the stairs like The Incredible Hulk, carrying on like a teenager dragging my 12-year-old self to theme parks and the next she was too tired and I had to give up my seat for her on public transport.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind (...well, maybe a bit). I just didn't understand why. I later learned she had arthritis.

I, like many, ignorantly had a lot of misconceptions about what that actually meant.

So, it's just sore knees and stuff, right?

It's just what old people get, right?


Arthritis actually affects around 10 million people in the UK. It's a common condition that causes inflammation and pain in the joints.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects around 8 million people. It often develops in those over the age of 50 but the onset can be much sooner due to injury or other joint-related conditions. It most noticeable in the hands, hips, spine and knees. In osteoarthritis the cartilage between the bones erodes away leaving the bones to rub together.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 400,000 people and women are more likely to suffer with it than men. Categorised as an autoimmune disease it is most common in the feet, ankles, wrists and fingers. It can also affect other organs in the body such as the lungs, the heart and the eyes. In rare cases, it can tighten the vocal cords which results in a hoarse voice.

There is currently no cure for arthritis and there is the exact cause is unknown but risk factors include smoking, obesity and genetics. Dehydration has also been linked to the onset of arthritis.

My mum has osteoarthritis and, as a result, she has to take tablets every day, can't walk for long distances and has sometimes struggled with everyday tasks she would have previously found easy.

After a while, I kind of just got used to the fact my mum couldn't do things always was able to do -without actually knowing much about it.

Is my mum going to want to come shopping?

Is she going to want to come and visit (insert historical town name here) with me?

Probably not.

And I resigned myself to that fact for quite a few months so I didn't ask. I believed she wouldn't want to do those things as she'd be too tired or too weak. So I just stopped asking. I didn't realise at the time how this was the completely wrong course of action.

There are a range of treatments available these days to help ease the systems of arthritis whether that is through the use of painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), creams, surgery or a number of other supportive or complementary therapies. Also, living a healthy lifestyle can help alleviate flare-ups of arthritis.

It was only after a while, when one night, I asked myself "what actually is this arthritis thing?" that I started researching it and found a number of things, that I, as a family member could do to help.

Exercise is the big one. Encouraging an exercise routine helps to keep joints moving and strengthens muscles. Plus, exercise is great for maintaining a healthy weight.

Healthy diets are also crucial for good general health. Balanced diets with plenty of fruit and vegetables can help those suffering with arthritis as being overweight can increase the stress and friction on the joints causing more pain.

If you live with someone who is experiencing arthritis pain, help out around the house when they have a flare-up. Sometimes, something as simple as changing the sheets or washing the dishes can be painful so be compassionate and offer to help out with tasks they might find hard.

Be sympathetic. It was only after I'd spoken to my mum, listened to how upset she was over losing some of her independence that I realised just how much these 'sore knees' were hurting her. Once this was out in the open, I understood the condition from her side a little better.

I even managed to convince her to get her proverbial skates on and come swimming with me. Now, my mum is carrying on like a teenager dragging my 27-year old self to the swimming baths each month. Some things never change.

To read my post about rheumatoid arthritis and the links with water, please click here.