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Disability and Arthritis

Experiencing Joint Pain?

Do you experience pain, swelling or stiffness of joints such as in the knee, elbow, wrist or neck? Do your joints become red, warm, swollen and painful, and you feel sick all over? Do you experience unexplained fever, fatigue, weight loss and swollen lymph glands in your body such as in the neck, under the chin, in the armpits, and in the groin for more than two weeks? If you do, you may have arthritis, a chronic disease common among people with disabilities.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a disease that causes pain and loss of movement of the joints. It includes more than 100 diseases and conditions affecting joints, the surrounding tissues and other connective tissues in many areas of the body. There are three common types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, commonly referred as “wear and tear” arthritis, involves destruction of shock absorbers on the ends of the bones. Fibromyalgia causes pain and stiffness in the tissue supporting bones and joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation of joint tissue.

Am I at Risk for Arthritis?

Persons with disabilities may have a higher risk of developing arthritis than those without disability. In fact, chronic pain in muscles and joints is the most frequently reported (55%) secondary health condition among persons with disabilities.1

Listed below are possible factors that likely increase the risk of arthritis among persons with disability.

  • Age: Individuals who are age 45 or older have an increased risk of arthritis. The majority of persons with disabilities falls in this age group.
  • Gender: Arthritis is more common among women than men, which is the same for disability.
  • Overweight and Obesity: Excess weight can place too much stress on a joint and lead a person to develop knee osteoarthritis. Persons with disability are more likely to be obese than those without disability. Repeated overuse of a joint can cause “wear and tear” and increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Persons with mobility limitation can develop osteoarthritis of the upper extremities from repeated overuse of joints in walking with crutches or pushing a wheelchair.

What Should I Do If I Suspect That I Have Arthritis?

Talk to Your Doctor
Doctors now believe that damage to the bones begins within the first two years that a person has arthritis. Thus, obtaining diagnosis and starting treatment at an early stage of the disease can likely decrease symptoms and long-term complications. For more information on finding a rheumatologist, visit the Arthritis Foundation (see RESOURCES in the right-hand column or call 312-372-2080). For relay service, call 800-526-0857 for voice, or 800-526-0844 for TTY.

Get Information
The Arthritis Foundation offers educational resources for people of all ages and types of arthritis.  Throughout Illinois, there are in-person seminars on a variety of topics. 
For the most up-to-date information, please see Arthritis Foundation under RESOURCES in the right-hand column. 

Be Active
Research has shown that physical activity decreases pain and improves joint function. The Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program uses low-impact, joint-safe exercises that can be done either in a sitting or standing position. The Arthritis Foundation Aquatic Program uses gentle resistance in warm water to build muscle strength and joint movement. The Arthritis Foundation Walk with Ease Program is a walking program that can reduce pain and improve overall health.  Classes are offered at accessible locations. Contact the Arthritis Foundation for class information.

To learn more about the Illinois Disability and Health Program, or to receive this fact sheet in accessible formats, contact the Illinois Department of Public Health, Disability and Health Program, at 217-782-3300, TTY 800-547-0466. 

This fact sheet was supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number U59DD000271 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC. 

(1) Kinne, S. et al. (2004). Prevalence of secondary conditions among people with disabilities. Am J Public Health, 94(3), 443-5.