May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. The ACR is committed to ensuring that arthritis and rheumatologic diseases are at the forefront of public awareness—and that better, safer treatments reach Americans in need. Fortunately, the federal government is also doing its part and has just released a major report on the national impact of arthritis.
A Growing Public Health Concern
In March 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its Vital Signs Data on Arthritis in America and the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on the prevalence of doctor-diagnosed arthritis and arthritis-attributable activity limitation in United States, 2013–2015.1,2 Both reports are multifaceted, but the findings are profound in that the burden of arthritis is increasing.
Arthritis is common, expensive and a leading cause of disability. Arthritis causes joint pain, swelling and stiffness, whose negative impact on lives can levy a severe physical and emotional toll on patients. Arthritis prevalence is on the rise in the U.S., with nearly one in four adults (or 54 million) Americans now living with doctor-diagnosed arthritis and 24 million Americans experiencing limitation in their activities because of their disease. About 32 million (or 60% of) adults with arthritis are of working age (18–64 years) and have lower employment than those without arthritis. The economic impact is staggering. Arthritis costs at least $81 billion in direct medical costs annually.
According to the CDC, one in three adults with arthritis is inactive. This is unfortunate, not only because of the cognitive costs of stagnancy, but also because physical activity can decrease pain and improve function by about 40%. Therefore, it is vital that both patients and doctors understand the benefits of physical activity. Even low-intensity activities, such as swimming, biking, yoga, tai chi or walking, can help maintain and improve strength, flexibility and endurance. Multiple studies have shown that arthritis patients who exercise regularly have less pain, more energy, improved sleep and better day-to-day function.
Approximately half of all adults with heart disease or diabetes have arthritis, as do one-third of adults with obesity. Concomitant arthritis makes managing these conditions difficult. Physical activity helps manage all these conditions. According to CDC estimates, physical activity programs can reduce yearly healthcare costs by about $1,000 per person. Although physical activity is not a cure, in conjunction with treatment by a rheumatologist or rheumatology health professional, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce joint pain and improve quality of life for patients.