Physical Limitations - A Consequence of Arthritis

Can You Overcome or Compensate for Physical Limitations?

Exhausted woman with arthritis.
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Physical limitations are a consequence of arthritis. Joint pain, swelling, stiffness and deformities can interfere with your ability to perform usual daily living activities, as well as leisure and work activities. Pain itself can be limiting, which is why so many arthritis treatments are aimed at reducing joint pain. As cartilage wears away (osteoarthritis) or erodes because of inflammation (rheumatoid arthritis), the affected joint no longer functions normally.

Range of motion of the joint is affected, and simply put, you can't move like you used to. You've developed physical limitations.

How Intrusive Are Physical Limitations?

Like the severity of your disease, physical limitations can range from minor annoyances to major difficulties. Physical limitations may affect your ability to do what many people take for granted, such as:

  • lifting 10 pounds
  • walking one city block
  • climbing stairs
  • standing for 15 or 20 minutes
  • bending to pick up an object from the floor
  • reaching to get something out of a cupboard
  • holding a writing instrument
  • holding a coffee cup or soda can with one hand
  • personal hygiene matters

Move Thoughtfully

Using proper body mechanics and joint protection are important, but these measures were never more important than when you have physical limitations. You will want to avoid stressing other muscles and joints because of limited range of motion.

In an effort to do things normally, you will need to consciously avoid overusing joints and risking further damage. That may mean that you need to look into assistive devices or adaptive equipment. It may point to the harsh realization that you can't do everything you want to do or used to do. You may need to ask for help, delegate, or hire help when necessary.

Respect Your Limitations

Respect your limitations. Rather than risk injury or further joint damage by ignoring your physical limitations, make the necessary adjustments to your environment to improve your situation. Lower items from higher shelves, install a railing along your steps, buy a reacher, consider using a cane -- do whatever you need to do to ensure your safety as you remain active and independent.

The Bottom Line

The CDC reports that 22.7 million adults 18 years of age or older have arthritis-attributable activity limitations. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 25 million adults. The impact of physical limitations due to arthritis is significant. Of working age adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis, 31% report being limited in their work. Also, 41% of adults with arthritis who volunteer report being limited in their abilities to do so because of arthritis. And, 27% of adults who do not volunteer report that arthritis is the reason why they don't.


Disabilities and Limitations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Reviewed 01/25/2016.

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