Arthritis facts and figures

This section looks at the percentages of people diagnosed with arthritis as well as separating fact from fiction. This includes a look at some of the myths which surround arthritis and the reality behind these.

Myths arise with any medical condition and whilst there is often a grain of truth in these it is important to realise that they are often just that: a myth rather than a hard scientific fact.

In order to help you this section is arranged as follows:

  • Arthritis myths
  • Arthritis statistics
  • Arthritis and gender

Arthritis myths

Myth 1: arthritis is an older person’s disease.

Fact 1: many people assume that only old people develop arthritis but this is incorrect.

Most people who get arthritis are aged 50 or older but there are cases of younger people developing this disease. This includes children and teenagers. If it occurs in young people then it is usually due to illness, injury, e.g. sports injury and obesity.

Myth 2: exercise makes arthritis worse.

Fact 2: the opposite tends to be true in that certain forms of exercise such as walking or swimming eases the pain and other symptoms of arthritis.

This will be painful to do at first but as long as you take it easy to start with and accept that there may some initial discomfort then you will feel the benefits. Use anti-inflammatory medication before and after exercise.

Ask your GP for advice before starting an exercise regime.

Myth 3: arthritis is worse during bad weather.

Fact 3: there is no evidence to show that you are more likely to have an episode of arthritis – or a ‘flare up’ during bad weather. There are people who believe that when the weather is cold, damp or windy it will worsen the symptoms of arthritis but this is not the case.

Conversely, warm weather does not improve the symptoms of arthritis. What happens is that people become more active in the summer months and take part in physical activities which reduces the symptoms.

Myth 4: Cracking your joints such as your knuckles causes arthritis.

Fact 4: this is a very common myth. Many people assume that someone who cracks their knuckles will automatically develop arthritis but this is untrue.

It is irritating and does not do the joints any good but it does not increase the risk of arthritis.

Myth 5: if you get arthritis then there is nothing you can do about this.

Fact 5: wrong. Whilst there is no cure for arthritis (or least not yet!), there are a vast array of treatments which include pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Your GP can help you to devise an arthritis control plan which includes healthy eating, exercise and medication.

There are a number of options open to you which mean adapting to your condition but can still lead as normal a life as possible. Many people do not let their arthritis stop them from doing the things they enjoy.

Find out more about how you can do this in our living with arthritis section.

The next section presents a series of figures regarding the number of people who have arthritis – and what type –in the UK.

Arthritis statistics

What can we tell you about arthritis?

According to the Arthritis Research UK website:

General arthritis

  • More than 10 million adults in the UK visit their GP about arthritis or an arthritis related condition. This breaks down into 6 million women and 4 million men.
  • More than a third of the UK population aged 50 and above suffers from arthritis related pain.

Osteoarthritis facts

  • The most common type of arthritis in the UK is osteoarthritis, in particular osteoarthritis of the spine.
  • Around one million adults consult their GP with some form of osteoarthritis.
  • More than 6 million adults suffer from osteoarthritis in one or both knees.
  • More than 650,000 adults have osteoarthritis in their hips
  • Nearly 8.5 million adults have X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis in the spine.

Rheumatoid arthritis facts

  • Around 400,000 adults in the UK have rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Three times as many women get rheumatoid arthritis compared to men.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis facts

  • Around 2,500 children each year develop juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Gout facts

  • A quarter of a million adults each year visit their GP with gout

Ankylosing spondylitis facts

  • More than 30,000 adults consult their GP each year about ankylosing spondylitis.

Systemic lupus erythematosus facts

  • Around 25,000 adults have lupus.

Did you know that arthritis is the most common medical condition which people receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for?


These are sobering statistics aren’t they? Arthritis affects a great many people in the UK and is not confined to the middle aged either. There are children who develop a form of arthritis called ‘juvenile idiopathic arthritis’which is just as debilitating as those which affect adults.

For more information on this visit our arthritis in children section.

Arthritis and gender

Gender is also an issue: statistically, more women than men develop arthritis especially osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. There are several reasons for this which includes:

  • The tendons in the lower half of the body, e.g. around the knees are more flexible in women than men. This elasticity also makes them prone to injury.
  • Women have wider hips than men which also mean that the angle between them and the knees is more acute than those in men. This is known as the ‘Q angle’. This biomechanical difference between the sexes means that women have a greater risk of certain types of sports injuries, for example patellofemoral pain syndrome. This often affects women runners.
  • The female hormone oestrogen appears to have a protective effect on the joints, thereby preventing inflammation. But this changes once a woman reaches the menopause. Oestrogen levels fall during the menopause which means that a woman loses the protective effects and is at risk of inflammation and osteoarthritis.
  • Obesity is another factor. Excess weight is a problem for both men and women and causes a range of health problems. It puts a strain on the joints which then affects the cartilage between the joints, causing it to wear down more quickly. This leads to problems such as arthritis.

If you are a woman who is experiencing pain and swelling in your joints particularly your knee then see your GP as soon as possible. There is little than can be done about oestrogen although if you are going through the menopause then treatments such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are an option.

This gender imbalance is unfair but the important thing here is to seek treatment from your GP as well as learning to control the symptoms of arthritis. Medical science is advancing all the time and new treatments are being developed which will manage this condition.

This will enable you to live as normal a life as possible.

Find out more about these in our treatment for arthritis section: plus do not forget our living with arthritis section which contains useful information about managing your condition.

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