The Effect of Joint Pain on You and Your Family

The side effects of joint pain can ring through many facets of life without us even noticing it. Being aware of this can help proactively address common trouble spots.

Severe arthritic joint pain affects 1 in 4 American adults.1 Perhaps you know the frustration of dealing with chronic pain on a daily basis, whether your symptoms are caused by arthritis or another condition altogether. 

For example, stiff, achy, sore, and unstable joints can limit your ability to perform even the most basic tasks at work or at home. Chronically painful joints can make physical activity seem next to impossible, even though research shows exercise is a good way to manage joint pain.2 Worries about your joint pain becoming worse, losing your independence, and not being able to do the things you enjoy can weigh heavy on your mind. And the stress you may feel about your condition can sometimes make your pain even worse.3

Chronic joint pain raises other important questions in relation to your role as a parent, partner, sibling, or caregiver. That is: how does joint pain impact your ability to raise a family and care for your loved ones? How are your loved ones affected by your struggle with chronic pain and dysfunction? If conservative measures like physical therapy and medications aren't helping, is surgery the right call? If it is, how will you and your family manage during your post-operative down time?

If you've been thinking about getting surgery to alleviate your joint pain but are concerned about how your recovery process will affect your ability to run your household and care for your family, know that this is an understandable fear. But, there are strategies which can help you and your loved ones work together to survive and thrive in the face of chronic pain, no matter what your plan of care involves.

Common Challenges For You and Your Loved Ones When You're Living With Chronic Joint Pain

At least 54 million people are affected by joint pain in the United States—which means there are millions of family members and loved ones who have to watch someone they care about suffer from chronic, debilitating pain. What is their experience? 

As it turns out, researchers have studied this very question.4-7 A few studies found that family members of a person suffering from chronic joint pain often feel a wide range of emotions that arise from different perceptions, beliefs, and fears. 

For example:

  • Many loved ones feel sad or frustrated because they feel like they can't make their loved one better.
  • Fear and worry about the person's disability—and how this may impact things like their relationship and finances—can cause extreme distress and lead to feelings of over-protectiveness or burnout.
  • Very young children may become fearful of their suffering loved one, who might mobilize differently or require special equipment and environmental modifications (such as wheelchairs, lifts, or extra caretakers) in order to function.6  
  • Close family members often overestimate or underestimate their loved one's pain, which can lead to issues such as reinforced dependency or criticism, respectively.
  • A family member might feel anger or denial about your illness; they may even feel resentful about the new responsibilities they must take on if a person is unable to perform certain duties or functions.

Of course, the above list is not all-inclusive, and these findings should be taken in context. Individual factors—including age, illness severity, coping skills, cultural beliefs, socioeconomic status, and family dynamics—can and will influence how family members are affected. 

Additionally, if you're the one suffering from joint pain, it's important to take your needs into consideration, as well. This can be hard to do, especially if your default is to "fill every one else's cup" before filling yours.

Feeling as if you can't take care of your family the way you want to—whether that's through cooking meals, earning an income, or attending special events—can lead to depression, shame, guilt, and a sense that you are "letting down" the people you care about. You may feel unable to communicate fully with your loved ones, nor stay involved in their lives and activities. This can lead to feelings of social isolation and decreased intimacy (for spouses, physical as well as emotional intimacy can suffer dramatically). 

The point is, your chronic pain may be affecting you and your loved ones more than you realize—but there is hope. Juggling family, work, social life, hobbies, and even personal goals can be challenging for everyone—and especially for individuals living with moderate to severe joint pain. Talk to your loved ones, and even your doctor, about how you’re feeling. Your doctor may be able to provide you with the right tools and resources to help you and your loved ones learn how to cope with the unique constraints of your condition.

References
  1. CDC Staff. Arthritis - How CDC Improves Quality of Life for People With Arthritis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 30, 2019. www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/arthritis.htm
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Exercise helps ease arthritis pain and stiffness. Mayo Clinic. December 19, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971
  3. McAllister, Murray J. Stress, Inflammation and Chronic Pain. Institute for Chronic Pain. November 24, 2014. https://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/blog/item/152-55stress-inflammation-and-chronic-pain
  4. Healthtalk Staff. Impact of the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis on family & others. Healthtalk.org. August 2016. http://www.healthtalk.org/peoples-experiences/bones-joints/rheumatoid-arthritis/impact-diagnosis-rheumatoid-arthritis-family-others
  5. University of Washington Staff. Families and arthritis – Loving and supporting someone with arthritis. UW Medicine Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. http://www.orthop.washington.edu/patient-care/articles/arthritis/families-and-arthritis.html
  6. Eustice, Carol. The Impact of Arthritis on Families. Verywell Health.  July 31, 2019. https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-impact-of-chronic-arthritis-on-family-188095
  7. Riffin, Catherine, et al. Impact of Pain on Family Members and Caregivers of Geriatric Patients. Clin Geriatr Med. 32(4): 663-675; 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5116301/
Please let us know how useful this article was to you

Thank you for rating this article.