When most people hear the word “arthritis” they probably picture a grandma who has trouble knitting or maybe a grandpa who walks with a cane. Most people don’t picture a mother chasing after her children, or a teenager at the mall with her friends, or a baby learning how to walk.
But the reality is that all of these people can have forms of arthritis.
Confusion about the different types of arthritis, who is affected, and how it impacts their daily lives can often lead people to make well-meaning but ill-informed comments. Here is a list of five things not to say to someone living with rheumatoid arthritis – and some facts you can offer in response if someone says these things to you.
1. You are too young to have arthritis.
The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA), occurs when the cartilage between joints breaks down over time. Because this type of arthritis often worsens with age, it has created the stereotype that only old people get arthritis. But that simply isn’t true.
Out of 50 million Americans who have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, two-thirds are younger than 65 and 300,000 of them are children.
2. My grandmother (or great aunt or other old person I know) has arthritis too.
More likely than not, your grandmother has osteoarthritis (OA). While potentially painful and life-altering, OA is not the same as autoimmune forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or juvenile arthritis (JA). Autoimmune arthritis occurs when a person’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joints.
3. But you don’t look sick!
Autoimmune forms of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and juvenile arthritis (JA), are often invisible illnesses. A person may not show any outward signs of living with daily pain and fatigue. But someone who looks perfectly healthy may still be experiencing flare-ups of inflammation and pain or dealing with fatigue. Like other chronic diseases, RA and JA may fluctuate in severity from day to day.
4. Now is the best time to have RA.
While this is factually true – RA treatment has indeed improved dramatically over the past few decades – it really doesn’t make it any easier to be diagnosed with RA today. Being diagnosed with RA is still a lifetime burden, particularly if you are diagnosed at a young age.
5. You just need to exercise more.
While exercise is certainly an important part of managing any type of arthritis, when RA flares exercise can be difficult, painful, or even impossible. Exercising during a flare may even lead to additional joint damage. When RA is controlled low-impact strengthening exercises can be very helpful, but no amount of exercise is going to cure RA.
Are there any other things that you think people shouldn’t say?