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Arthritis in the UK: 10 million people

Your joints start to stiffen up, you can’t move as freely as you used to and you’re experiencing pain. You put it down to just getting older but it could be arthritis and it affects more people than you might think.

In the UK more than 10 million people a year consult their GP with arthritis and related conditions.

And 8.75 million of those have been to the doctor about the most common form of the disease, osteoarthritis, where the joints have become damaged and stop moving freely – causing pain.

The second most common type is Rheumatoid Arthritis which is an inflammatory joint disorder. More than 400,000 people in the UK have it and it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. It doesn’t cause health problems all the time so is quite unpredictable. It can flare up severely causing fatigue, stiffness and pain.

It’s an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system turns on your body and attacks something called the “synovium” – the membrane lining your joints. This causes the inflammation and thus the pain.

These are just two of over 200 different types of musculoskeletal pain. Others related conditions you may have heard of include Fibromyalgia where symptoms include chronic fatigue and pain. Psoriatic Arthritis, as suggested by the name, is linked to the skin condition psoriasis and is another autoimmune disease much like Rheumatoid Arthritis.

So in essence, arthritic conditions affect the joints. And your joints are what help you move.

Now if you thought it was something only “old” people had to deal with, then you’d be wrong. Of those who have sought treatment, 33% were aged 45 years and over, see not “old”, according to figures collected by

In people over 75 – 49% of women have been to see their GP with arthritic-style symptoms and 42% of men.

The results of data analysed and collected over a seven year period are staggering – osteoarthritis appointments amount to over 100,000 consultations a day and consumes significant GP resource.

And it’s not just a lack of mobility or inability to turn a tap that we’re talking about. Arthritis Research UK found that between 1990 and 2010, disability due to osteoarthritis in the UK increased by 16%, with that figure set to rise.

Collectively, musculoskeletal conditions are the greatest cause of disability in the UK, accounting for close to a third of all years living with disability.

Children can be affected too. Data collected from the US and Norway helps to project figures regarding those under 16 in the UK and it suggests that over 3,000 girls and nearly 5,000 boys will develop some form of arthritis each year.

What causes it?

There are various factors which increase the risk of arthritis. It can be caused by damage to the joint or excessive loading on that joint over time. An injury or genetic factors could also be the cause.

The regions affected include hips, hand and wrists, knees, and feet and ankles. Women are more likely to develop arthritic conditions than men.

The most common complaint from patients is around the knee joint – with 2.6 million women and just over 2 million men experiencing arthritic symptoms. Collectively, at 4.7 million, that’s the equivalent to the population of outer London.

Taking into account the growth and ageing of the UK population, along with increase in obesity rates, Arthritis Research UK estimates that the number of people with osteoarthritis of the knee could reach 8.3 million by 2035.

Arthritis in other areas of the body are less common. In the UK, just over two million people are affected with the condition in their hips. In the feet and ankles it affects 1.7 million people. And finally, in the hands and wrists, 1.56 million people have sought treatment for it.

Of course some people experience it in several areas of the body, further decreasing mobility and increasing pain and stiffness. 1.76 million people have had to go to the GP with pain in two or more areas of their bodies.

How do you treat arthritis?

There are various methods of treating the condition, including traditional and alternative medicines, sometimes surgery and making lifestyle changes.

Appropriate exercise can be part of the treatment, as can weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight, to avoid extra bearing on the joint.

In some cases painkilling medication can be prescribed and supports can be worn to reduce impact. In some severe cases replacement of the joint could be needed – 98% of knee replacements are due to osteoarthritis and the average hip replacement costs more than £7,000 per person.

So it’s not surprising that cost of treating musculoskeletal conditions in the UK is £5.7 billion a year. And figures dating back to 2006 found that more than 10 million working days are lost to arthritis related sickness.

But there are steps you yourself can take to relieve some of the symptoms of the condition. For example, the charity Arthritis Care provides various suggestions for aids to help such as using painkiller patches, TENS machines and heat or ice packs.

There are various supplements you can get to help with the pain, however you should always consult your doctor if you’re thinking of trying alternative remedies.

On a national scale, Arthritis Research UK has made several recommendations regarding the impact of the condition and how the UK can move forward in understanding and treating it.

The recommendations include making it a health priority, monitoring its impact on the general population, putting in place national clinical guidelines, as well as committing to further research on ways to prevent and treat arthritis.

And while there are no guarantees for progress there are ways to raise awareness and plenty of help for those who are living with the condition. Starting with World Arthritis Day on October 12. A chance for you to show your support and find out what you need to know to help yourself or a loved one struggling with their mobility.