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Disability comes in many forms and can vary from person to person. While arthritis falls under the umbrella term of physical disabilities, it is crucial to understand its classification as a dynamic disability. Living with rheumatoid arthritis for the last decade has underscored for me the importance of understanding the dynamics of my disability and being able to explain it to others.

Arthritis is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In fact, it is the primary cause of disability globally. Beyond osteoarthritis, the most common form, there are over 100 types of arthritis that impact people of all ages, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, fibromyalgia, and gout. Arthritis represents just one category of diseases that can cause disability to fluctuate. Multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, depression, and diabetes are all examples that fall into the dynamic category.

What Is a Dynamic Disability?

A dynamic disability refers to a condition or impairment that varies in severity and impact over time. Unlike a static disability, such as amputation or paralysis, which remains constant, a dynamic disability may have periods of remission or exacerbation. This can pose challenges for individuals with dynamic disabilities as they try to predict and manage their symptoms, given that the level of impairment can change unexpectedly.

Next time you encounter someone who uses a mobility aid on one occasion and then doesn’t on another, remember that they are not faking their disability; it simply fluctuates. The same principle applies to individuals with invisible disabilities, where their ability to perform certain tasks can vary from one day to the next.

Arthritis as a Dynamic Disability

Arthritis is a prime example of a dynamic disability, though the concept can be confusing, even to someone like me who lives with multiple forms of arthritis. One moment, I can be on a roll, getting things done and feeling alright, and then suddenly, I need to lay down, and I’m down for days. In simpler terms, I have good days, bad days, and days that fall somewhere in between.

Dynamic disabilities can vary in severity and their impact on daily life. This unpredictability can significantly affect the quality of life for individuals with arthritis, as it can hinder their ability to perform tasks, participate in activities, and maintain independence.

My triggers can be simple things like weather changes, physical exertion, or emotional stress, which can exacerbate how I I feel, leading to increased disability at any given moment. I can also anticipate flares due to medication changes, major events like holidays or travel, or changes to my routine. 

The Dynamic Impact of Arthritis on Health and Well-Being

While there are various forms of arthritis, autoimmune types of arthritis can increase the risk of infections and often involve slower healing compared to individuals without autoimmune diseases. A simple cold can put me out for weeks, exacerbating the challenges posed by my inflammatory arthritis.

Infections stand out as a primary trigger for our diseases to flare up, causing our medications to lose effectiveness, and even trigger death for some with autoimmune arthritis.

What’s more, the pain of arthritis is not just physical; it extends to mental and emotional well-being. Living with a dynamic disability like arthritis can cause frustration, anxiety, and depression, particularly when symptoms worsen or restrict participation in meaningful activities.

The fluctuating nature of dynamic disabilities like arthritis, which can vary in severity from day to day or even within a single day, makes it challenging for individuals with arthritis to accurately plan and anticipate their needs. I often find myself having to cancel, postpone, or modify plans due to my arthritis, which can trigger intense feelings of guilt and undermine my confidence.

This has had a profound impact on my mental health and social life. Loneliness and isolation are all too common among those living with a dynamic disability, leading to poorer overall outcomes.

Hard to Understand, Harder to Live With

Understanding and showing compassion for people live with a fluctuating condition can be even more challenging for those who haven’t experienced such conditions themselves. The often invisible nature of arthritis, coupled with the misconception that it primarily affects the elderly, adds to the confusion surrounding its impact on individuals at any given moment.

The unpredictable nature of dynamic disabilities can make them challenging to manage. Individuals living with dynamic disabilities frequently encounter unique daily obstacles when it comes to planning, accessibility, and adapting to changing needs. People with arthritis may find it necessary to adjust their daily routines, utilize assistive devices, or seek medical interventions during periods of increased disability. This underscores the significance of a multidisciplinary approach involving health care professionals, occupational therapists, and support networks to provide comprehensive care and support.

Showing Support for Dynamic Disabilities

Raising public awareness about arthritis and its dynamic nature can play a crucial role in reducing stigma while fostering understanding and empathy for individuals living with this condition. By recognizing the dynamic nature of arthritis, we can strive to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for those affected.

Understanding the dynamic challenges associated with arthritis enables better management and support for individuals living with the disease. Additionally, addressing these unique challenges empowers those with arthritis to lead fulfilling lives while effectively managing their condition.

Be a More Proactive Patient with PatientSpot

PatientSpot is a patient-led, patient-centered research registry for people living with chronic disease and related conditions. You can participate in voluntary research studies about your health conditions and use the app to track your symptoms, disease activity, and medications — and share with your doctor. Learn more and sign up here.

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