Have you ever struggled to get on and off the toilet seat, become frustrated trying to squeeze a shampoo bottle or grasp a bar of soap, or worried about slipping when getting in and out of the tub or reaching down to dry your body post-shower? You’re not alone. A lot of little and big dangers lurk in the bathroom for people who live with inflammatory or degenerative arthritis. That’s why creating an arthritis-friendly bathroom is an important task.
Each year, roughly 235,000 people visit emergency rooms because of injuries that occur in the bathroom, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than a third when bathing or showering and more than 14 percent when on the toilet. Some 81 percent of injuries were caused by falls. People with arthritis may be especially prone to balance issues that can increase the risk of falling.
Creating a bathroom that improves your daily function, reduces stress on your body, and decreases your risk of falling can have a big impact “not just on your performance but also on your confidence and independence for years to come,” says Daniel Crowe, ORT/L, CHT, occupational therapist/certified hand specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
From shower benches and stools to slip mats and bath mitts and more, here are some expert-approved modifications and products for creating an arthritis-friendly bathroom to make your life easier, more comfortable, and safer.
Invest in an adjustable shower bench
Arthritis can cause deficits in strength, endurance, and balance, which can make it difficult to get in and out of a shower-tub combo and maintain a standing position while showering, says Crowe.
Transforming your tub into a walk-in shower is the ideal solution, but it may not be affordable for you, says occupational therapist Karen Jacobs, OT, CPE, FAOT, Clinical Professor of Occupational Therapy at Boston University.
Both Jacobs and Crowe say a great (and less expensive) alternative is a transfer bench. “The transfer bench provides you with support as you bring your legs into the shower from a seated position, eliminating the need to step up and over the tub,” says Crowe, adding that it also provides an area within the shower to wash in a seated position.
Take a seat
If you have difficulty standing for long periods, a shower seat would be a great addition to your bathroom, says Crowe.
CreakyJoints member Jennifer echoes this tip, saying that buying a swivel bathroom stool was a lifesaver. “It helps me sit down because the water pressure hurts my fibromyalgia, small fiber neuropathy, and the inflammation in my spine from [ankylosing spondylitis],” Jennifer W. tweeted. “It allows me to rest as needed, too.”
Get extra grip
Both Jacobs and Crowe recommend installing grab bars by the tub, shower, and/or toilet to suit your specific needs.
“Grab bars provide a stable point at which a person can utilize not just their lower extremities but also their arms,” Crowe says. “Instead of having two points of contact (right foot and left foot on the floor), you now can have three or four depending on the setup with the addition of one or both arms being involved.”
Although you can install grab bars yourself, you may consider seeking the help of a professional to ensure that they are secure and stable. “The last thing you want to do is drill a grab bar into nothing but dry wall only to find out that it is not secure enough when you need it most,” says Crowe.
If you’re bothered by the aesthetics, Jacobs recommends asking about flip-up grab bars that rest against the wall when not in use.
Raise your toilet seat
If you have arthritis in your knees and hips, lowering down or raising from a low toilet seat can put a lot of stress on these load-bearing joints. “The lower the seat, the more the body must work and the more stress is involved to accomplish this task,” says Crowe.
Investing in an elevated toilet seat can provide an extra two to six inches, which will reduce the effort of going up and down. “While it doesn’t seem like much, this extra height can make all the difference,” says Crowe.
Another option: Place a commode over your toilet, which will provide handles on each side to help you get up, adds Jacobs.
Move your toilet paper
Reaching over to the wall to grab toilet paper can require coordination and balance, which can feel like a lot of work when you have arthritis. To eliminate this challenge, Jacobs suggests adding a free-standing toilet paper roll right next to the toilet.
“[Placing] non-slip mats in the tub, by the toilet, and by the sink is an easy and effective ways to prevent falls in areas that can easily have moisture build-up or spills on the floor resulting in a slip,” says Crowe.
Jacobs recommends purchasing mats that are absorbent, sturdy, and that have adhesive on the back so they don’t curl up on the corners and become a trip hazard. “Don’t just rely on a towel on the floor [as you get out of the shower] as this is a potential hazard,” she adds.
Trade your towel for a robe
Slipping into a lightweight terrycloth bathrobe instead of toweling off after the shower can save your joints in two ways: It will absorb the water, eliminating a slick floor and potential fall, and prevent you from having to bend down to dry off your body, says Jacobs. Just be sure to hang it on an easy-to-reach hook right next to your shower.
Swap squeeze bottles for pumps
Washing your hair and body can be tough with arthritic hands. To make things a little easier, CreakyJoints member @ralifehacks suggest putting pumps on your bottles, noting that it’s “so much easier on the joints than squeezing a bottle.”
Similarly, Jacobs recommends swapping your bar soap for containers with pumps that don’t require force. “Holding a bar of soap can be challenging, and it can fall on the floor, causing a potential fall,” Jacobs says.
Go long (when it comes to handles)
If you have arthritis in the upper extremities (fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders), sustained grip, fine motor coordination, and overhead/behind-the-back reaching can be difficult, says Crowe.
Using bath mitts that don’t require grasping and long-handled sponges to reach your back and behind the legs can help eliminate these challenges. Another useful tool: A hand-held shower head, which can make hard-to-reach areas more accessible.
Swap knobs for levers
This simple swap can help eliminate the grasping and turning action that can be aggravating for fingers, thumbs, and wrists, says Crowe. Using knob turners on doors, sinks, and showers can also provide a better grip.
Add rubber grips
Brushing your teeth, drying and styling your hair, cutting your toenails, and shaving your legs can be challenging when you have trouble holding or wrapping your hand around an item. “Gripping and pinching can create forces that may result in symptoms in the joints within the fingers and thumbs,” says Crowe. “Adding grips [to commonly used bathroom tools] can decrease the amount of force needed to grip and manipulate these items and therefore decrease the amount of stress placed on the joints.”
Get help reaching and grabbing
Storing a reacher tool in the bathroom can be helpful if you need to get something under the sink or pick up something from the floor, says Crowe. If you have difficultly pinching toilet paper with your hands and fingers, you can use the same tool to reduce the stress on your joints.
Give yourself some air
Taking a shower that’s too long or too hot can easily be confused with the hot flashes or temperature sensitivities that occur for people with rheumatoid arthritis, says Crowe. Both Jacobs and Crowe recommend putting a small fan in the bathroom or cracking open the door to provide an escape for the hot/air steam.
You can also take time to sit and practice diaphragmatic breathing to cool off and slow yourself down, says Crowe.
The Bottom Line
There’s no one solution for making your bathroom more arthritis-friendly. By understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and working with an occupational therapist, you can find the adaptive equipment and creative solutions that work best for you and your home.
“The key is safety first,” says Jacobs. “Of all the rooms in one’s home, the bathroom is often used most in one day and it may be unpredictable so it’s important to think proactively.”
“Many incidents can be avoided by slowing things down and being aware of your environment and what you’re trying to accomplish,” Crowe says.
Participate in Arthritis Research — From Your Smartphone
If you are diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, we encourage you to participate in future studies by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is the first-ever patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.
Anderer J. Me Time: The Average Adult Will Spend 416 Days in The Bathroom, Survey Finds. Study Finds. July 8, 2019. https://www.studyfinds.org/average-adult-will-spend-416-days-bathroom/.
Interview with Daniel Crowe, ORT/L, CHT, occupational therapist/certified hand specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City
Interview with Karen Jacobs, OT, CPE, FAOT, occupational therapist and Clinical Professor of Occupational Therapy at Boston University
Nonfatal Bathroom Injuries Among Persons Aged ≥15 Years — United States, 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. July 10, 2011. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6022a1.htm.