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10 Things Not to Say to Someone With Arthritis

Think Before You Speak

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Updated June 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

People with arthritis are not inherently hypersensitive but certain comments from friends, family, or even strangers, can hurt. Even though the comments are not intended to be hurtful, they can provoke negative feelings, as well as a sense that no one understands what it is really like to live with arthritis. Here are 10 comments that you should avoid when talking to someone with arthritis and why the comment, even when said innocently, stirs bad feelings.

1 - I know exactly how you feel.
It is not possible to know exactly how someone with arthritis feels because you have not experienced what they are feeling. The comment is often said to express that you can relate to what they are dealing with, but truthfully, it comes across as minimizing their pain or other physical challenges. It would be better to say, "I haven't walked in your shoes. I can only imagine how difficult it has been for you."

2 - You look just fine.
In usual circumstances, people like to be told they look well. But, when you are speaking to someone who has arthritis, someone who feels sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, the comment is unappreciated. The comment implies that they must feel fine because they look fine. In other words, you look good, so how bad could it be? The comment disregards the fact that certain symptoms are invisible, but still very real. Pain is not always visible, unless associated with a limp or other physical abnormality. Fatigue is not visible. Malaise is not visible. So much of arthritis is not visible. It would be better to say, "You look good but I know that is no indication of how you are really feeling."

3 - You're too young to have arthritis.
This comment is derived from the biggest misconception there is about arthritis. Most people think that arthritis only affects older people and that the disease is associated with aging. Fact is, anyone can develop arthritis. There are about 300,000 children in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with arthritis. While the comment is not necessarily hurtful, it is annoying to hear the myth and misconception perpetuated. A more appropriate version of the comment might be, "It is so unfair for someone your age to be saddled with arthritis pain."

4 - I heard this product works to cure arthritis.
There is a vast audience paying attention to advertisers and marketers. Those who promote supplements, special juices, topical rubs and more as the cure for arthritis can be accused of deceptive advertising -- for most people with arthritis there is no cure. When you listen to infomercials or get drawn into magazine ads or tabloid headlines, you are hopeful that you found something that could help. In reality, unsolicited advice is not welcome. Any treatment that has merit will not be announced on an infomercial or tabloid headline. Temper your enthusiasm and keep a lid on unsolicited advice.

5 - If you changed your diet, you would feel better.
This comment is wrong on many levels. It implies that there is a known connection between diet and arthritis. There is no proven causal connection between diet and arthritis. It also implies that the person with arthritis is uneducated or uninformed for not knowing a better, more healthy way to eat. A better approach, if you feel compelled to discuss diet with someone who has arthritis would be, "Have you ever tried eating anti-inflammatory foods. Perhaps it would be worth a try."

6 - You should walk more.
Again, this falls under the category of unsolicited advice. The comment also has an undertone that suggests the person with arthritis is lazy. Walking actually is a recommended form of exercise for all people. Many people with arthritis have mobility issues and physically cannot walk far, though. If you want to bring up walking in a positive way, you could say, "I know walking is difficult for you. I'll go with you if you would like company. We'll start slow and go only as far as you want to go."

7 - You take too many medications.
Medications can be a touchy issue. No one really likes to take prescribed medications, but most people with arthritis find it necessary. Many people with arthritis would tell you that they could not function without their medications. Their medication regimen is decided upon by their doctor. It is inappropriate for you to discuss medications unless you feel they are abusing a prescription. If you are just trying to pitch natural alternatives versus prescription medications, it's best to leave treatment decisions to the doctor and patient.

8 - My knee hurts sometimes too.
It's quite possible that your knee hurts sometimes. But you can't compare minor aches and pains to someone who has severe arthritis. Pain cannot be compared. It is not a competition. This comment is just another way of saying that you know how they feel. In fact, you don't. It would be best to be a good listener and not interject your own aches and pains into the conversation.

9 - Do you feel better yet?
No one wishes they could stop chronic pain more than the person who lives with arthritis. It's their goal to try and find whatever will make them feel better and function as normally as possible. A comment which asks if they "feel better yet" sounds impatient. It implies that they aren't trying hard enough to get well or that there is some timetable involved. It suggests that there is a definitive end as opposed to recognizing arthritis as a disease that for most people lasts a lifetime. It would be preferred and likely better received to simply ask, "How are you feeling?"

10 - It's one thing after another.
It is the nature of the beast. As soon as one joint is under control, another flares up. People with arthritis know about multiple joint involvement, systemic effects of certain types of arthritis, medication side effects, and disease complications. It actually does seem like one thing after another at times. But, you don't need to point out the obvious. They live it. A more appropriate comment might be, "I'm sorry you have to deal with so much. I wish you could have a break from the pain."

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