September is Arthritis Awareness Month in Canada. Here at Neighbourhood Care, we’ve decided to take some time to get to know the disease that affects over 6 million Canadians – and its many faces.
This guide seeks to help raise awareness for arthritis and support in the ongoing battle against it, in view of helping those suffering from this disabling disease.
A quick note about this guide: It’s important to note that nothing in this article is intended to replace the recommendations of your health care provider(s). The advice we share on self-managing arthritis is both provided by our team of care specialists and collected from expert sources and is meant to provide practical approaches to performing everyday tasks that can help make life tasks a little easier and help protect the joints affected by arthritis.
Without further a due, let’s begin our in-depth look into arthritis, the most disabling disease in Canada, and what you as an individual can do to help.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a term used to describe a complex group of over 100 diseases that strikes people of every age, from infants to adults, and stays for life.
Arthritis is characterized by inflammation in the joints or other areas of the body. Inflammation is a medical term that describes redness and swelling which causes pain and, when in the joints, can also cause stiffness. Left unchecked, inflammation can lead to significant and often irreparable damage to the affected areas, resulting in loss of function and disability.
Arthritis (arthro = joint, itis = inflammation) can involve almost any part of the body, most often affecting the hip, knee, spine, or other weight-bearing joints, but also is found in the fingers and other non-weight-bearing joints. Some types of arthritis can affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and even the skin.
Arthritis is a chronic condition: it affects people on an ongoing, constant, or recurring basis over months, years, even a lifetime.
What are the types of arthritis?
The most common types include osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), fibromyalgia and gout. Arthritis and related diseases can cause debilitating, life-changing pain in different ways.
In osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative disease that affects the whole joint, the protective cartilage and fluid break down over time, making joint movement difficult and painful. Eventually, bones of the joint may rub directly against one another, causing severe pain.
Although once thought to be caused by the wear and tear of aging, we now know that OA is due to abnormal joint loading (from obesity and joint injury) and systemic factors (such as genes, inflammation, aging, and sex).
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis causes redness, pain, swelling or a hot (or warm) feeling in the lining of a joint. The inflammation may also affect other internal organs, such as the eyes, lungs, or heart. RA can affect any joint, but the most involved are in the hands, wrists, and feet.
Like RA and JIA, psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an autoimmune inflammatory disease in which the immune system attacks the body, especially the skin and joints, causing skin rashes and pain. It typically occurs in people who have psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that creates red or silver scaly skin patches as the production of skin cells accelerates.
Fibromyalgia is considered a pain disorder caused by a dysfunction of the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain and spinal cord. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain that may come and go or be constant. It’s believed that CNS signals are amplified in fibromyalgia, so that pain signals are heightened.
Gout is a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body that is not adequately flushed out by the kidneys. It most often affects the big toe but can also affect the ankle, knee, foot, hand, wrist, or elbow. Gout is often characterized by painful flare-ups lasting days or weeks followed by long periods without symptoms.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys, and brain. Lupus can affect men, women, and children of any age, but its onset is most typically in women of childbearing age (ages 15 to 45 years). Systemic lupus erythematosus is eight to ten times more common in women than men.
Chronic arthritis in children and adolescents, called juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), is a chronic disorder associated with serious disability for many of those affected. The most common presenting symptoms of JIA are joint swelling, stiffness, or pain, and can occur in one joint or many joints. Approximately one in 1,000 children under the age of 16 years suffers from arthritis. JIA is among the most common childhood chronic disorders.
Who suffers from arthritis?
While it is true that arthritis affects people of every age, from infants to adults, it is important to remember that the various forms of arthritis affect different people in different ways.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis among older people, and it is one of the most frequent causes of physical disability among older adults. While the disease affects both men and women, under the age of 45 osteoarthritis is more common in men than in women. Beyond the age of 45, osteoarthritis is more common in women.
With Rheumatoid Arthritis, women are about three times as likely as men to develop the disease.
Incidence of arthritis increases with advancing age, in all races and ethnic groups.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Symptoms vary between different types of arthritis as well as patient to patient. However, the most common symptoms are:
- joint pain, tenderness, and stiffness.
- inflammation in and around the joints.
- restricted movement of the joints.
- warm red skin over the affected joint.
- weakness and muscle wasting.
What are the main causes of arthritis?
Once again it is important to remember that different forms of arthritis manifest and are caused by different factors.
Most forms of arthritis are thought to be caused by a fault in the immune system that causes the body to attack its own tissues in the joints. This may be inherited genetically. Other forms of arthritis can be caused by problems with the immune system or by a metabolic condition, such as gout.
Osteoarthritis usually comes with age and most often affects the fingers, knees, and hips. Sometimes osteoarthritis follows a joint injury. For example, you might have badly injured your knee when young and develop arthritis in your knee joint years later.
The impact of arthritis on the individual
A significant proportion of people living with arthritis report difficulties with activities of daily living, such as doing housework and running errands, and report needing assistance with aspects of daily life.
People with arthritis are more likely to experience anxiety, mood disorders, poor mental health, and difficulty sleeping, compared to those without arthritis.
Those with arthritis are less likely to be in the labour force, compared to those without arthritis.
In addition, a significant proportion of people with arthritis also have other serious diseases like heart disease or diabetes.
Is there a cure for arthritis?
There is no cure – yet – and consequently people must face the challenges and devastating impact of arthritis for the rest of their lives once diagnosed.
Arthritis in Canada
Arthritis is a leading cause of disability and public health issues in Canada. Collectively, the 100+ types of the disease cost the Canadian economy billions every year.
The facts and figures below pertain to Canadian adults and were drawn from the Status of Arthritis in Canada report (August 2019) developed by the Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU) for Arthritis Society Canada based on an analysis of Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2015-17.
- 6 million Canadians live with arthritis (1 in 5).
- 55% of people with arthritis are under 65.
- As many as 25,000 Canadian children seek healthcare for arthritis.
- Nearly 60% of people with arthritis are women.
- Women are more likely to have arthritis than men.
- Only 2% of total research dollars goes towards Arthritis Research.
What are the most common types of arthritis in Canada?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in Canada and usually affects the joints of the hands, feet, hips, knees, and spine.
The less common but widely recognized as the most disabling for of arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis affects about 1% of Canadians according to Statistics Canada.
About one out of every 100 adult Canadians has RA. That’s about 300,000 Canadians. Anyone can get RA and at any age. RA affects women two to three times more often than men.
Is arthritis considered a disability in Canada?
Patients diagnosed with arthritis can apply for the Canadian disability credit to assist with financing treatment and physical therapy if their condition worsens.
While it is true that there are many forms of arthritis, many who suffer from conditions under the umbrella of arthritis often qualify for Disability Tax Credit for Arthritis, a form of assistance from the Canadian government.
For example, Osteoarthritis impacts the sufferer’s physical ability to participate in life in a normal and healthy way, its rightly considered as a disability, thus making the sufferers eligible for the disability tax credits, offered by the Canadian government.
The Canadian Government also acknowledges Rheumatoid Arthritis and as a result provides financial assistance in the form of the Disability Tax Credit and other related disability benefits for those who are affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Some forms of arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis, requires that you prove to the CPP that your disability is both prolonged and severe, leaving you unable to work.
Most people who get approved receive anywhere from $1,600 to $35,000.
Disability tax credits for arthritis in Canada
Patients diagnosed with arthritis can apply for the Canadian disability credit to assist with financing treatment and physical therapy if their condition worsens. Support can also be found through several organizations, including:
- The Arthritis Research Centre of Canada—provides clinical research trials, a patient research Centre, and support for rehabilitation. Counselors can also assist with the disability tax credit application.
- Arthritis Alliance of Canada—provides support for physicians to develop models of care specifically for inflammatory arthritic conditions and assists patients with getting connected to an appropriate rheumatologist.
- The Arthritis Society—provides charity services, education, and care programs for Canadian patients with arthritis. Will also assist in providing information about the Canadian disability credit available for patients with arthritis.
What is the best self-help for arthritis?
Unfortunately, arthritis will not go away on its on. However, it can be managed. Treatment advances can help to minimize pain, improve range of motion, and prevent further damage.
The Arthritis Foundation provides a fantastic eight-step self-management guide to help you take control of your arthritis.
- Be Organized: Take charge of your treatment plan by keeping track of symptoms, pain levels, medications, and possible side effects so together with your doctor, you can determine what works best for you. Use our health tracker to get started.
- Manage Pain: You don’t want pain to take over your life. Try eight natural pain therapies that can help you feel better. Talk to your doctor about the best medications to ease your pain.
- Address the Emotional Side: Coping with a new diagnosis and the pain and limitations that may come can wear on you emotionally. Learn more about the emotional effects so you can better manage them.
- Tackle Fatigue: Fatigue can be a one-two punch. It can be caused by your disease or the daily stress of living with a chronic disease. There are simple ways to manage fatigue.
- Improve Sleep: Pain and sleep problems can go hand in hand. Pain makes it hard to sleep. Poor sleep can worsen pain. Use these tips for sleeping better to help you get the rest you need.
- Get Moving: It might be the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, but exercise will help. It strengthens muscles that support your painful joints, keeps joints mobile, helps you get restful sleep, boosts mood and helps you lose excess pounds that add stress to joints. See how you can start an exercise program.
- Balance Activity with Rest: Rest is important when your disease is active, and your joints feel painful, swollen or stiff. Lighten your schedule and obligations and ask for help when you need to. Pace yourself throughout your day and take breaks when you can. Get some tips for pacing yourself.
- Eat a Balanced Diet: Healthy eating (plus exercise) can help you reach and keep a healthy weight. Add anti-inflammatory foods that are rich in antioxidants to help control inflammation. Discover what makes the ultimate arthritis diet.
How to prevent arthritis from getting worse?
The Arthritis Foundation also provides a simple yet practical self-management guide for slowing the progression of Osteoarthritis. They highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar, getting appropriate exercise, protecting your joints, and choosing a healthy lifestyle.
The Future of Arthritis
The prevalence of arthritis is on the rise, and by 2040, is forecasted to affect 50% more people than today’s numbers.
In other words, about 24% of the population will have arthritis (1 in 4), and nearly 60% of women over 65 will have arthritis. These increases will place further undue burden on healthcare resources.
What is being done to battle arthritis in Canada?
Across Canada, the battle against Arthritis receives support from many dedicated individuals, as well as healthcare professionals and organizations.
Their goals generally are two-fold. Their support is mean to help people diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis overcome the obstacles and hardships stemming from their disease. In addition, they aim to find new treatments, cures and preventative measures through medical research programs.
What is Arthritis Awareness Month?
Arthritis Awareness Month is meant to grow awareness for the many faces of arthritis, the lives it impacts and what you individuals and businesses can do to support research. The official ribbon color for arthritis is blue, and donning a ribbon signals your support for the ongoing fight against this disease
In Canada, September is Arthritis Awareness Month, while in the U.S., Arthritis Awareness Month takes place in May. Furthermore, different types of arthritis are honored during different days, weeks, and months depending on the country, with the only globally recognized arthritis day being World Arthritis Day, October 12.
Arthritis Awareness Days and Weeks
- Arthritis Awareness Month – September in Canada, May in the U.S.
- National Psoriatic Arthritis Day – October 19
- National Enteropathic Arthritis Awareness Day – November 19
- Still’s Disease Awareness Day is September 7.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week (RAAW) is sponsored by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society in the United Kingdom. RAAW 2021 is September 13 to September 18.
- October 12 is World Arthritis Day.
- Rheumatoid Awareness Day is held on February 2 each year.
- World Autoimmune and Autoinflammatory Arthritis Day, or AiArthritis Day, is held annually on May 2. It is sponsored by the International Foundation for Autoimmune and Autoinflammatory Arthritis.
- Juvenile Arthritis Awareness month is held during July.
How can I support the fight against Arthritis in Canada?
An individual can best support the fight against arthritis in Canada by donating to one of the multiple charitable foundations whose mission it is to fund arthritis research and to support people suffering from arthritis. These foundations understand the importance of arthritis research in finding treatments and one day cures to the many types of arthritis.
Most importantly these foundations are mission-driven and have a clear understanding of the positive impact their work has and will continue to have on the lives of individuals who suffer from the disease. Donations to these organizations will not only help find cures, but they will also help people with arthritis remain employed, avoid life-threatening complications, stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and much more.
Here are a few of the major foundations dedicated to arthritis research and helping people with arthritis:
Founded in 1999, Arthritis Research Canada is the largest clinical arthritis research centre in North America, whose mission it is to transform the lives of people living with arthritis through research and engagement.
Arthritis Research Canada’s receives donations from individuals and organizations as part of their Monthly Giving Program.
All donations go towards funding vital research into more than 100 forms of arthritis, helping to reduce administrative costs, as well as providing a steady source of income to help Arthritis Research Canada more effectively plan and maximize the donation’s impact
Arthritis Society Canada is a national health charity, fueled by donors and volunteers, with a mission to fight the fire of arthritis with the fire of research, advocacy, innovation, information and support.
Arthritis Society Canada invested $5.3M into arthritis research in 2021 and distributes valuable Canadians information on arthritis to 2.5 million Canadians each year.
Throughout the entire Arthritis Awareness Month this September, Arthritis Society Canada will be matching each donation, doubling the impact of every single gift.
Arthritis Society Canada aims to spark new ideas and accelerate innovation in arthritis research.
Founded in 1998, the Arthritis Research Foundation raises and invests funds for arthritis and related autoimmune disease research. In addition, Arthritis Research Foundation strives to increase awareness of this large family of diseases.
As the result of an exclusive arrangement with Sinai Heath Foundation, Arthritis Research Foundation is the sole fundraising arm for arthritis and related autoimmune disease research at Sinai Health System. The purpose of this partnership is to ensure we are securing as much philanthropic support from the community as possible for these debilitating diseases.
 Disability Credit Canada | Link: Disability Tax Credit for Arthritis and Walking Impairments
 Disability Credit Canada | Link: Disability Tax Credit for Arthritis and Walking Impairments
 Disability Tax Service | Link: Disability Benefits for Rheumatoid Arthritis in Canada