Coping With Osteoarthritis

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Coping With Osteoarthritis

Topic Overview

When you find out that you have osteoarthritis, you may be scared and worried about how it may change your life, work, and relationships.

It's hard to know how fast your arthritis may progress. Your symptoms may come and go, stay the same, or get worse over time. Some days you may feel fine and be able to do the things you need—and want—to do with little pain. Other days the pain may be too much for you to do simple tasks like getting dressed or brushing your teeth.

At times you may feel overwhelmed, tired, and angry. You may be afraid that you might become disabled and not be able to care for yourself. You may even wonder if you'll be able to continue to work. These feelings are normal. Most people who have arthritis feel this way at one time or another.

Some people with arthritis also feel down or depressed. They may describe this as feeling "depressed," "unhappy," "short-tempered," "blue," or "down in the dumps." If you feel like this most of the time, tell your doctor. Treating these symptoms may help you feel better and make it easier for you to do your daily tasks.

Ways to cope

Even though living with arthritis can be stressful, the good news is that you can do some simple things to feel better and keep the joy in your life and relationships.

  • Ask your family and friends for help. Don't be afraid to let people help you with some of your tasks, especially on days when you have a lot of pain.
  • Balance activity with rest. If you get tired when you do a task, break the task down into smaller tasks, and rest between them.
  • Learn ways to reduce stress. Stress can make your pain feel worse. You might try deep breathing and relaxation exercises or meditation to help reduce stress and relax your mind and muscles.
  • Meet with friends. At times, you may not want to go out because you're too tired or don't want to be seen using a cane or wheelchair. But being social can help you feel better. If you isolate yourself, you may get depressed.
  • See a counselor.Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows you to express your fears and concerns and learn new ways of coping with arthritis.
  • Be creative. Find ways to still do the things that you enjoy, but do them in a different way that doesn't cause pain. For example, plant flowers in a raised garden bed instead of planting them directly into the ground. Then you won't have to kneel.
  • Join a support group. This is a great place to share your concerns and hear how other people cope with the challenges of arthritis. Online forums and chat groups are also good places to find support.
  • Keep a pain diary. Write down how your moods, thoughts, sleep patterns, activities, and medicine affect your pain. Having a record of your pain can help you and your doctor find the best ways to treat your pain.
  • Educate yourself. The more you know about arthritis, the more you'll be able to cope with any lifestyle changes that you may need to make as your symptoms get worse. Encourage your family and friends to learn about arthritis too. Then they can know what you're dealing with and learn ways they can help you.

Studies have shown that people who are part of a support group and who take an education course, such as an arthritis management course from the Arthritis Foundation, have less pain and depression and are more mobile.1

At work

If your arthritis makes it hard for you to do your job, talk to your boss about what changes you can make to your schedule and things you can do to modify your work area.

You might ask if:

  • You can have a later start time.
  • You can work part-time or work from home.
  • You can switch to a light-duty position, if your job involves a lot of lifting, bending, or standing.

Stay positive

Adopting a "good-health attitude" and healthy habits, such as eating a balanced diet, staying at a healthy weight, and getting enough sleep, will make you feel better and help you stay active.

When you think in a positive way, you may be more able to:

  • Care for yourself and handle the challenges of arthritis.
  • Avoid or cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.

One Woman's Story:

Photo of a woman

Bev, 76

"There are so many things in our life that we can control. And there are big things that we can't control. But if we assume control of the things that we can, at least we feel like we're doing something to make our lives better."—Bev

Read more about Bev and how she learned to cope with arthritis.

Support your caregiver

If a family member or friend is helping to care for you, be sure to let that person know how grateful you are for the help.

Keep in mind that your caregiver's life may be changing along with yours. And he or she may be dealing with some of the same emotions as you are. Talking is a great way for each of you to share your concerns and support for each other.

Other Places To Get Help


American Occupational Therapy Association
4720 Montgomery Lane, P.O. Box 31220
Bethesda, MD  20824-1220
Phone: (301) 652-2682
Fax: (301) 652-7711
TDD: 1-800-377-8555
Web Address:

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the nationally recognized professional association of approximately 35,000 occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students of occupational therapy. AOTA's mission is to advance the quality, availability, use, and support of occupational therapy through standard-setting, advocacy, education, and research on behalf of its members and the public.

Arthritis Foundation
P.O. Box 7669
Atlanta, GA  30357
Phone: 1-800-283-7800
Web Address:

The Arthritis Foundation provides grants to help find a cure, prevention methods, and better treatment options for arthritis. It also provides a large number of community-based services nationwide to make living with arthritis easier, including self-help courses; water- and land-based exercise classes; support groups; home study groups; instructional videotapes; public forums; free educational brochures and booklets; the national, bimonthly consumer magazine Arthritis Today; and continuing education courses and publications for health professionals.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), National Institutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD  20892-3675
Phone: 1-877-22-NIAMS (1-877-226-4267) toll-free
Phone: (301) 495-4484
Fax: (301) 718-6366
TDD: (301) 565-2966
Web Address:

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) is a governmental institute that serves the public and health professionals by providing information, locating other information sources, and participating in a national federal database of health information. NIAMS supports research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases and supports the training of scientists to carry out this research.

The NIAMS website provides health information referrals to the NIAMS Clearinghouse, which has information packages about diseases.



  1. Friedrich MJ (1999). Steps toward understanding, alleviating osteoarthritis will help aging population. JAMA, 282(11): 1023–1025.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerStanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology
Last RevisedApril 8, 2011

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