The number of adults with arthritis in the United States continues to rise, with the number projected to climb as high as 78 million by the year 2040. Some of the keys to stemming this rising tide are exercise, along with greater knowledge of how to manage symptoms, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Arthritis is at an all-time high: more than 54 million people report a diagnosis of it, and alarmingly, more people with arthritis are suffering from it,” said Anne Schuchat, MD , acting director of the CDC, during a conference call regarding the agency’s latest Vital Signs report ( MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017 Mar 7. doi: org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6609e1 ). “Among adults with arthritis, the percentage whose lives are particularly limited has increased by about 20% since 2002, from about 36% in 2002 to 43% in 2015. We’re seeing this increase independent of aging of the population.”

The key to avoiding the condition’s most debilitating symptoms is exercise, according to the CDC. About 24 million American adults report being significantly limited because of their arthritis. While many arthritis patients are advised not to engage in physical activity in order to avoid aggravating their condition, the CDC is now urging health care providers to encourage their arthritis patients to get out and exercise as much as they can, especially before the more severe symptoms begin to set in.

“Physical activity can be the antidote for many people [and] can actually decrease pain and improve function by almost 40%,” Dr. Schuchat explained. “Right now, one in three adults with arthritis report being inactive [because of] pain or fear of pain or not knowing what exercise is safe for their joints.”

This inactivity can lead to arthritis patients developing other serious chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity – conditions that all require physical activity in order to properly manage them. Arthritis alone puts an extraordinary financial burden on the domestic health care industry, as direct medical costs associated with the condition total roughly $81 billion per year, according to the CDC. Additionally, about half of all adults with heart disease or diabetes, and about one-third of obese adults, also have arthritis.

In addition to engaging in regular physical activity, the Vital Signs report also recommends that arthritis patients attend disease management education programs, which are available regionally but often go underutilized, largely due to lack of awareness about them or trepidation regarding how effective the programs really are. To combat this, the CDC is calling on health care providers to help them educate patients about these classes and spread the word about the steps that can be taken to manage arthritis. In 2017, the CDC is funding arthritis programs in 12 states (California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Utah) to disseminate arthritis-appropriate evidence-based physical activity and self-management education interventions.

“Men or women with arthritis can reduce their symptoms by 10%-20% by participating in disease management education programs to acquire skills to better manage their symptoms. Right now, these programs are only reaching about 1 in 10 people with arthritis, but the classes are available in many community settings,” Dr. Schuchat said. “We know that adults with arthritis are significantly more likely to attend a disease management education program when a health care provider recommends it to them.”

When seeing patients with arthritis, Dr. Schuchat advised health care providers to recommend routine physical activity, such as walking, biking, swimming, and physical activity programs offered by local parks and recreation centers, as well as weight loss, in order to ease joint pain. The American College of Rheumatology and other professional organizations provide guidelines for discussing treatment options with patients. Providing treatment or additional services for depression or anxiety, which occur in about one-third of adult arthritis patients, may help individuals to better manage their arthritis symptoms.

The agency’s report derives from its analysis of 2013-2015 data from the National Health Interview Survey, which comprised a nationally representative sample of about 36,000 in-person interviews. The survey classifies individuals with physician-diagnosed arthritis as those who answered “yes” to the question “Have you ever been told by a doctor or other health professional that you have some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia?”


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