Rising to the Challenge: Meeting the Growing Demand for Arthritis Care

Anne Schuchat, MD; Sharad Lakhanpal, MBBS, MD


May 26, 2017

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a Vital Signs report, "Arthritis in America," analyzing the latest arthritis data—and the findings are concerning. Approximately 24 million Americans are experiencing limitations in their daily activities because of arthritis. Furthermore, 1 in 3 adults with arthritis are physically inactive because of this condition and are missing opportunities to reduce joint pain through physical activity. If current trends continue, the CDC estimates that 67 million adults will have arthritis by 2025.

This stark picture comes at a time when the recent American College of Rheumatology workforce study projects a shortage of 3800 rheumatologists in the United States by the same year.

Given the projected rise in the number of adults with arthritis due to aging of the population and other risk factors, as well as an anticipated fall in the supply of rheumatologists, there is a lot of work to be done. It is now very important to raise awareness and recognize the benefits of physical activity, early intervention, and timely referral of complicated cases to reduce the overall burden of arthritis on our population.

Studies have shown that physical activity can reduce pain and improve physical functioning among those with arthritis by nearly 40%.[1] Even moderate-intensity activity like water exercise, biking, or walking can have a significant impact. Multiple studies show that arthritis patients who exercise regularly have less pain and stiffness, more energy, improved mental health, and better day-to-day functioning.[2,3]

In addition to physical activity, healthcare providers can recommend that patients attend proven self-management education programs,[4] ask patients about depression and anxiety and refer to appropriate services, and consult the guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology about treatment options, including medications.

Rheumatologists, primary care physicians, and other healthcare providers can talk with their patients about how changes to daily routines can make a big difference.[5] Public health professionals can work with state and local health departments and national organizations to raise awareness of resources and make interventions available. Primary care physicians and other healthcare providers may find interventions available at local community organizations, parks and recreation departments, and senior centers.

When we all work together, we can help Americans with arthritis take steps that, in combination with comprehensive medical care, improve their quality of life.