Arthritis Doesn't Just Affect your Joints, It affects your Heart as Well!

The Stories

Gary is 56. He has worked as a mechanic his entire life. Over the last 5 years or so, his knee has started to give him problems. He went to his doctor who told him it’s arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis. He gave him some pain medications and talked to him about possibly getting a knee replacement.

Gail is 49. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 5 years ago and has had a couple of flare ups and remissions. Her pain is mostly in her feet and her hands. Her medications take away the pain in the short term but it never seems to go away completely.

The Commonalities

What do these two individuals have in common? Both are suffering with types of arthritis and are having pain in their joints. Pain from arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in Canada and the US and it’s on the rise.

But did you know that the other thing they had in common was that they were both at increased risk of heart issues?

arthritis, physiotherapy, health

When we have pain, especially in the joints of the lower body, we get into a vicious cycle. Because we’re in pain we stop moving. This creates more issues because we start to lose strength and get more tired with the movement that we do. Plus, it flares up our pain and throws us into that spiral again.

Exercise… again… can be the answer!

As we’ve talked about before, exercise can be the solution and has been shown to help with the pain of osteo and rheumatoid arthritis. You can check that out here!

How about the rest of our body? When we have an issue… we tend to focus on just that issue. My knee hurts so I’m going to focus on the knee. But our body is a system and that means that need to remember that everything else has to be supported to stay healthy.

What the research tells us

Research has shown that persons with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are at increased heart risk. What they mean is that people with arthritis are more likely to have heart attacks and strokes. There are a couple of reasons why they think this is true

1. People with arthritis are also more likely to have heart risk factors. Studies have shown that people with arthritis are more likely to be overweight, have high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome in general.

2. When we’re in pain we don’t move around as much. To keep our heart healthy, we need to move! So what happens when we’re in pain and become more sedentary is that the other parts of our body also suffer.

3. Arthritis is often driven by inflammation, especially RA. The more we learn about chronic conditions, the more inflammation seems to be the root of all evil. Just like it is the inflammation in arthritis that attacks our joints, it is the inflammation in the arteries around our heart that create plaques leading to heart attacks.

So we need to remember that it is not just our sore knee we need to consider when we have pain. It is our entire body! Keeping our heart healthy is just as much of a priority as rehabbing that sore spot.

Exercise rehabilitation can get you to kill two birds with one stone. It will allow you to stay active as well as gain the strength you need to alleviate the pain from arthritis.

Need help getting started? Check out our How-To guide for exercising with rheumatoid arthritis! Even a bit more movement into your day can make a big difference!


Hawker, G. A., Croxford, R., Bierman, A. S., Harvey, P., Ravi, B., Kendzerska, T., . . . Lipscombe, L. (2016). Osteoarthritis-related difficulty walking and risk for diabetes complications. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, doi:S1063-4584(16)30233-3 [pii]

Jafri, K., Bartels, C. M., Shin, D., Gelfand, J. M., & Ogdie, A. (2016). The incidence and management of cardiovascular risk factors in psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis: A population-based study. Arthritis Care & Research, doi:10.1002/acr.23094 [doi]

Tournadre, A., Mathieu, S., & Soubrier, M. (2016). Managing cardiovascular risk in patients with inflammatory arthritis: Practical considerations. Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease, 8(5), 180-191. doi:10.1177/1759720X16664306 [doi]

Wiseman, S. J., Ralston, S. H., & Wardlaw, J. M. (2016). Cerebrovascular disease in rheumatic diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Stroke; a Journal of Cerebral Circulation, 47(4), 943-950. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.115.012052 [doi]

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Christina Prevett

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