Did you know that arthritis affects 1 in 5 adults in America? Did you know that arthritis is our nation’s #1 cause of disability and that two-thirds of arthritis sufferers are working-age adults who are striving to stay employed in the face of pain and functional limitations?
The burden of arthritis is even greater among U.S. military Veterans. About 1 in 3 Veterans has arthritis. About half of all Veterans with arthritis report limitations in their daily activities because of joint symptoms.
May is Arthritis Awareness Month. It’s a time for us to pay attention to the tremendous impact arthritis has among Veterans, and to the ongoing need for new, better treatments. It’s also a time to focus on what Veterans, their health care providers and their communities can do now to face arthritis as a team.
Researchers are working hard to understand the causes of arthritis and to develop better treatments, and ultimately a cure. In the meantime, arthritis is best managed with a combination of clinical therapies (like medicines) and healthy behaviors. Years of research have shown that physical activity and weight management help to improve pain and function for people with arthritis. But it can be hard to exercise when your joints hurt! So Veterans with arthritis need tools and a team of supporters to help them stay active and manage their arthritis. Here are some tips and key resources for Veterans with arthritis:
- Take advantage of online and community-based physical-activity and arthritis-management programs. The Arthritis Foundation provides a set of free, online tools that can guide Veterans and others with arthritis in appropriate exercise and healthy eating, identify local arthritis management programs, and connect people with arthritis for mutual support.
- See a physical therapist. Physical therapy is a recommended part of care for arthritis, but many individuals with arthritis do not receive physical therapy until years after diagnosis, or don’t receive it at all. Physical therapists can help Veterans with arthritis to address functional limitations, develop a home exercise program, and meet needs for knee braces or assistive devices that can help with daily tasks. The Durham VA Healthcare System delivers a group-based physical therapy program that was found in a research study (funded by VA Health Services Research and Development) to be as effective as individual physical therapy, and it has the added benefit of peer support.
- Try something new! There is emerging evidence that some complementary and integrative health approaches can be helpful for people with arthritis. Yoga, tai chi and massage therapy are three examples of treatments Veterans may want to try.
VA has a very active and diverse portfolio of arthritis research, ranging from laboratory studies of potential new medications for rheumatoid arthritis to studies on complementary and rehabilitative therapies. During Arthritis Awareness Month, take some time to read some highlights of VA arthritis research here.
About the author: Kelli Allen is an associate director of the Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care at the Durham VA Health Care System and a faculty member at the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.