If someone asked you who is affected by arthritis, the chances are, older people would immediately spring to mind. Although this is true to some extent, arthritis can actually affect people of any age and its prevalence in younger generations may be higher than you’d expect.
Around 10 million people are living with arthritis in the UK – that’s one in five people – and some 27,000 of those are under 25 years of age. The number of diagnoses is constantly on the rise and among children under 16 years of age alone, there are 1,000 new cases each year.
Arthritis can be a debilitating condition and has the potential to impact all aspects of everyday home and work life, as well as cause a wide range of emotional, social, professional and financial difficulties. According to a survey by Arthritis Care, 81 per cent of people are in constant pain or are limited in their scope to perform everyday tasks as a result of their arthritis.
Although there is no cure for the condition, there are many ways to manage the pain, prevent it worsening and cope with its wider effects. Bharti Rajpara from Arthritis Care’s helpline team says: “A comprehensive pain management plan ideally includes drugs, regular exercise, a varied and healthy diet, stress control, and some people find complementary therapies helpful.”
Despite this, it is extremely common for people to let their symptoms get the better of them and not ask for support to help them manage the condition – either this or they are simply unaware of the support that is available. But this is where Arthritis Care Week hopes to make a difference.
Running this year from 14 to 21 May, Arthritis Care Week aims to challenge attitudes towards arthritis and raise awareness of the condition, which Arthritis Care, the charity behind the campaign, believes is all too often underestimated and overlooked.
The awareness week has been running for more than 30 years and, according to Arthritis Care spokesperson Nikki Hill: “Over the years, we have reached many thousands of people, but there are many more people out there who, with extra support, could be leading a full and active life managing their arthritis.”
Each year, the charity focuses on different topics or issues for the campaign to offer the most comprehensive support for people with arthritis. “Last year, we focused on the benefits of exercise and the importance of keeping your joints moving,” says Nikki. “This year, we want to start removing the barriers that prevent people talking about their arthritis,” she adds, before explaining that “there are many people with arthritis coping on their own, not even sharing the challenges of arthritis with their families or friends. Often they are unaware of the help and support that’s available. We want to reach out to people so that they know help is out there.”
As such, the main focus of this year’s theme – Arthritis Matters – is about getting people to talk about their condition with their family, friends and healthcare professionals. This will ensure the people closest to them understand the challenges of arthritis so they can work together to find solutions for managing their condition.
Arthritis Care Week centres on a series of events held by Arthritis Care’s local groups around the country, but there’s also plenty of scope for pharmacies to get involved and support their customers. Nikki says: “We want to reach out to people so that they know help is out there. We can’t do it on our own and we’re hoping pharmacies can get involved.”
To help with activities during Arthritis Care Week, the charity has free posters about its helpline, together with leaflets and booklets, available for pharmacies to display and give out. The booklets offer specialist information about the condition, such as how parents can help their children manage arthritis, how to deal with surgery, how to manage arthritis at work and how healthy eating can be of benefit. Nikki explains that the charity is also “encouraging people to pick up the phone and call our helpline [0808 800 4050] or go to our website and discover the range of really helpful information, help and support that can help them to live well with arthritis.”
Learning to cope with chronic pain may be one of the biggest challenges for a person with arthritis, but it can be managed
It’s not just raising awareness of the help and support available from Arthritis Care that pharmacies can get involved with during the Arthritis Care Week in May. Bharti explains that the pharmacy team is perfectly placed to offer self care advice and steer people toward using appropriate non-medication therapies to help manage their arthritis too.
“Learning to cope with chronic pain may be one of the biggest challenges for a person with arthritis, but it can be managed,” explains Bharti. Pharmacy staff can therefore offer to: “Signpost people to the appropriate healthcare provider if more information is needed, such as a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist or a dietitian. Besides this, they can answer a whole load of questions at the pharmacy level, including pain reduction, keeping active and dietary supplements,” she adds.