COVID-19 & Arthritis

The COVID-19 pandemic was certainly full of uncertainty for many. With unprecedented lockdowns globally persisting for months many had to stay at home, avoid unnessesary visits to overwehlmled heathcare systems, avoid going out for exercise and also cancel elective surguries. So how did this effect people with athritis?

Challenges for patients with arthritis during COVID-19.

COVID-19 had a significant impact on the quality of life for people with arthritis. Many of these patients depend on physiotherapy treatment and community exercise programs to manage symptoms. Strict lockdown measures meant that people were less physically active and with reduced opportunity for incidental exercise leading to loss of muscle strength and also weight gain. Lockdown measures were especially encouraged for elderly population that were most at risk of a sever COVID-19 infection and incidently more likely to have athritis.

On top of that most healthcare facilities around the globe were instructed to cancel elective surgeries including total knee or hip replacements. These patients ended up with more debilitating pain and not to mention the effect on mental health. 1 It wasn’t made easier in the early days of the pandemic when news circulated that NSAIDS, common pain killers used by arthritis patients, had negative effects on COVID-19. This has now been debunked by the WHO. 2

Recommendations for managing arthritis during COVID-19.

Exercise

Even short periods of inactivity can lead to significant loss of muscle size which leads to more severe symptoms. Unfortunately, home exercise programs are easier said than done when even pre COVID days compliance to exercise programs was a challenge in itself and patients usually just rely on painkillers. 4

  • Patients should be educated that exercise is a must regardless of age. There are many resources to help online like the Walk With Ease Program.
  • Family and friends should get on board with treatment programs for encouragement
  • Arthritis organisations and medical team should adapt to these challenges and arrange supervised home exercise programs via video conferencing technology.

Nutrition

Calorie intake should be monitored to avoid excessive weight gain during this time where patients are inactive. This can make symptoms worse. As for what to eat – there is no miracle arthritis diet however there are foods that can improve overall wellbeing and also symptoms of inflammation & pain. That is the Mediterranean diet.

Mental Health

Psychological issues from widespread pain related to arthritis are not uncommon. This will likely be exacerbated during and after the COVID-19 lockdown due to the isolation. Counselling should be offered especially since treatment sessions can be done via telehealth portals. Family & friends should encourage social interaction with “social gatherings” online.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.