World Arthritis Day
Today, October 12, is World Arthritis Day — a chance for us to show our concern and support for all those affected by rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. It’s astounding just how many of us are affected by arthritis. In the United States alone, more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions rob at least 50 million adults and 300,000 children of living life to its fullest. I am one of the 27 million Americans who battle a particular form of arthritis called osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease.
Even before I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis — and for me it’s all in the knees — I was deeply interested in the reality of chronic disorders and long-term injuries for which we have no cure; no pill, no “silver bullet” fix. A lot of my education, professional training and subsequent practice was in an area of psychology called Behavioral Medicine, a specialty in which we helped patients with such diseases and disorders as arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diseases of the central nervous system, diabetes, head and spinal diseases and disorders, chronic organic-based pain, obesity and other conditions for which there is no cure. We helped these patients learn how to cope and manage — often with very good results.
It is not always a simple answer. Chronic diseases often interact and complicate one another, which makes it really interesting sometimes. And arthritis is one of those conditions that can be greatly impacted by other disorders such as obesity. Obviously, if you have an arthritic condition and are seriously overweight, it can present challenges. By the way, if you recently heard me discussing obesity and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), another devastatingly painful form of arthritis, on Dr. Phil or The Doctors, I actually misspoke. I meant to say obesity can complicate RA, not that it can cause RA, which is, of course, an autoimmune disorder that is systemic, affecting the whole body, not only joints, but soft and connective tissues and, in some cases, organs.
I think the reason I got so interested in this subject so early in my career is because I am one of those people who believe we have to focus on the things we can control rather than anguish over the things we cannot control. Once we decide to do everything we can do to maximize our health, we become change agents in our own lives. When I met cancer patients who believed themselves to be terminal, I would always say, “Stay alive even one more day. Fight to survive even one more day, because one of those ‘one more days’ is going to bring a breakthrough, a cure, a new strategy that will make a difference.” I believed it every time I said it and I believe it now. But it costs money to do the research that discovers new treatments, and we all have to be willing to give to the causes that need funding the most.
Back in 1979, I wrote my doctoral dissertation at the University of North Texas titled Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Psychological Intervention. Clearly, the research we were excited about then is outdated, and I hope that we all take today as a reminder that there is important research to be done now. Some young researcher who’s obsessed with this subject like I was back then needs funding to find answers — and I encourage all of us to do what we can.
That’s why I am very thankful we have a day like World Arthritis Day. We need more information, more research, and far more public attention about what is happening; because this disease is not slowing down. Within 20 years, if things stay the same, without improved treatments, an estimated 67 million Americans (one in four adults) will have some form of arthritis. That is a scary forecast. For those of you looking for more information about the various forms of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, check out MyRACentral.com. And go to WorldArthritisDay.org to show your support on World Arthritis Day.
I hope you will join me in raising awareness of arthritis.