Are Your CNAs in the Know About Arthritis?

In the United States, arthritis affects more than 46 million people. By the year 2030, as the “baby boomers” get older, this number is expected to climb to 60 million! With numbers like that, it’s a safe bet that your nursing assistants provide care to clients with arthritis. But, do your CNAs know that arthritis is not a normal part of aging and what they can do to help clients who suffer from arthritis? Here is some information to help get a discussion going about arthritis at your next CNA inservice meeting.

The Aches & Pains of Arthritis

“Oh, my aching joints!” You’ve probably heard many of your clients make that complaint. In fact, you may have said it yourself!

Aching joints are one of the main symptoms of arthritis. (This makes sense since the word “arthritis” comes from two Greek words that mean “joint” and “inflammation”.) But, did you know that…?

  • There are over 100 different types of arthritis. Some forms of the disease are mild and some can be very serious.
  • Some types of arthritis affect the whole body-not just the joints.
  • Most forms of arthritis are chronic…meaning that there is no cure and they last a lifetime.
  • Half of the people over age 65 report symptoms of arthritis.

Isn’t Arthritis Just Part of Getting Older?

You might be thinking that arthritis is just a normal part of aging. So, what’s the big deal? Shouldn’t we all just expect to have aching joints as we get older?

Well…some forms of arthritis do come from wear and tear on the joints. And, the older we get, the more our joints tend to wear down. However, there are a couple of important points to remember about arthritis:

  • Nearly two out of every three people with arthritis are younger than age 65.
  • Some elderly people never develop arthritis.
  • There are many young adults who are diagnosed with arthritis. In fact, over 8 million Americans under the age of 44 have arthritis.
  • Some forms of arthritis appear to be caused by viruses, bacteria or genetic defects-rather than by wear and tear on aging joints.
  • Most people over 60 show signs of arthritis on their X-rays, but many of them have no symptoms of the disease.

What Causes Arthritis?

The exact causes of arthritis remain a mystery. However, there seems to be three main factors that play a role in the development of arthritis. These include:

Genetic Factors

  • There seems to be a genetic link for developing osteoarthritis, especially in the joints of the hands. Some people are born with defective cartilage which tends to break down easily.

Accidents, Injuries & Illness

  • Some types of arthritis may be due to bacterial infections.
  • People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing some forms of arthritis.
  • Accidental injuries-such as a dislocated joint, a bad sprain or a fracture-can lead to arthritis.
  • Sports-related injuries can cause arthritis.


  • Poor nutrition may be a factor in the development of arthritis.
  • Years of poor posture or lack of exercise can contribute to arthritis.

Because arthritis affects so many people, it’s likely that at least half of your clients are affected by the disease. They are forced to learn how to manage their everyday lives while dealing with this painful, chronic condition. So, what’s the good news? You can help!

A Dozen Tips for Helping Clients Manage Arthritis

1. Keep in mind that if you hear popping, clicking or banging noises when your clients move their joints, they may have osteoarthritis. And, if you hear a sound like crinkling plastic wrap when they move their joints, they may have rheumatoid arthritis.

2. Remember that some days are better than others for people with arthritis. Don’t be surprised if your clients can function pretty well one day and need lots of help the next.

3. Check the fit of your clients’ shoes. Remember that people’s feet can change size as they age. If shoes are too small, they will put pressure on sensitive joints. If shoes are too large, they put your client at risk for falling.

4. Remind your clients to change position frequently. This includes the position of their jaw, neck, hands, shoulders, arms, hips, legs, back and feet. Encourage them to stretch any area that feels tense or stiff.

5. Keep in mind that people with arthritis may find it easier to climb stairs one at a time, leading with their stronger leg.

6. Remind your clients to use the strongest joint possible to complete a task. For example, rather than open a door with their arthritic hand, they can push it open with a shoulder instead.

7. Encourage your clients with arthritis to sit in chairs with arms so they can push on the arms when getting up.

8. Be sure to balance periods of exercise and activity with periods of rest.

9. Remember that some of your clients may have specially made splints to help keep their joints in the correct position and reduce pain. Your clients may need help putting on and taking off these splints.

10. Remind your clients to use proper posture. This helps prevent additional joint damage. (And, keep in mind that slouching actually requires more energy than sitting up straight!)

11. Encourage your clients to use any self-help devices they may have to help them bathe, dress or eat. If they don’t know how to use a particular assistive device, let your supervisor know.

12. Be sure to let your supervisor know if a client has pain, stiffness or swelling in or around a joint.

For a more comprehensive review of arthritis, consider presenting the inservice, Understanding Arthritis to your nursing assistants.