Arthritis Attributable Activity Limitations Up Despite Aging Population

On March 7, 2017, the CDC published a report that found that more than 24 million adults with arthritis have activity limitations from their disease. The percentage of adults with arthritis who have activity limitations grew from 35.9% in 2002 to 42.8% in 2014, a significant increase of 20% overall that is independent of the aging of the population. The everyday activities of these adults, such as holding a cup, lifting a grocery bag, or walking to a car, are limited by arthritis.


More than 54 million adults in the U.S., or about 1 in 4, have arthritis (a condition that can result in pain, aching, stiffness, and swelling of the joints). Almost 60 percent, or about 32 million, of those with arthritis are of working age (ages 18-64).


Arthritis is a leading cause of disability, and causes pain, aching, stiffness, and swelling of the joints, but is not a normal part of aging. The most common types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia. Arthritis costs at least $81 billion in direct medical costs annually. Many adults with arthritis are prescribed opioid medicines, yet other options for pain are safer. The CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain states that insufficient evidence for, and serious risks associated with, long-term use of opioid therapy to treat chronic pain exist, and recommends use of exercise therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, certain interventional procedures, acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of arthritis. Although medications can help, nonpharmaceutical measures help as well.


“Arthritis symptoms keep millions of Americans from going about their daily routines,” said the CDC’s Acting Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “Doctors and loved ones can help people with arthritis by encouraging them to be as physically active as they can be. Physical activity is a proven strategy to ease pain and reduce symptoms among people with arthritis.”


When people with arthritis engage in physical activity they can reduce their arthritis symptoms by up to 40 percent. Yet, many adults with arthritis are not physically active. About 1 in 3 adults with arthritis report that they do not engage in physical activity during leisure time.


Adults with arthritis also can reduce pain, fatigue, and depression by 10% to 20% by participating in disease management education programs. However, just 1 in 10 has taken part in such programs. Adults with arthritis are significantly more likely to attend an education program when advised by a healthcare provider to do so.


CDC researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey to update previous estimates of adults with arthritis and arthritis-related activity limitation and made several key findings. First, approximately 54 million U.S. adults (23%) reported that their doctor had diagnosed them with arthritis. Second, about 24 million adults with arthritis had activity limitations because of their arthritis. Third, the prevalence of arthritis-attributable activity limitations among adults with arthritis increased by almost 20% over time (2002–2015), independent of the aging of the U.S. population, resulting in greater pain, disability, costs, and decreased quality of life.


“It’s extremely important for primary care providers to encourage their patients with arthritis to be physically active,” said CDC epidemiologist Kamil Barbour, PhD. “It is just as important for them to motivate their patients to attend workshops to learn how to better manage their arthritis.”


See the CDC Announcement


See the CDC Report


See the CDC’s state-by-state data on the number of people with arthritis or the number of people limited by the condition


See the CDC’s arthritis site


See also Medical Law Perspectives, September 2015 Report: Arthritis Pain and Inflammation: Diagnosis and Treatment Risks


See also Medical Law Perspectives, January 2014 Report: Prescription Painkillers: Risks for Patients, Pharmacists, and Physicians


See the Medical Law Perspectives February 16, 2015, Blog: Pharmacy Owes Duty To Patient Not To Fill Excessive Prescriptions for Opioids


See the Medical Law Perspectives October 8, 2014, Blog: Opioid Pain Pill Abusers Switch to Heroin; Heroin Overdose Deaths Double