Save up to 1/3 on selected pain relief including back braces, ibuprofen & more. T&Cs apply

Manage your NHS repeat prescriptions online with prescription tracking, re-order reminders & click & collect12

What is arthritis & what can I do about it?

Arthritis is a word used to describe several conditions that cause pain, inflammation (swelling) and stiffness in joints. Arthritis is common, affecting millions of people across the UK and can occur in people of any age, including children.

Although there’s not currently a cure for arthritis, treatments which help manage the symptoms of arthritis can be very effective.

Lifestyle measures such as maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking, avoiding alcohol, eating a healthy, balanced diet and staying active by getting regular exercise which is suitable for you and appropriate for your condition, can also help in managing the symptoms of arthritis, and help you to live well too.

Living with arthritis

There are several types of arthritis that people can experience, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which are the two most common forms. We’ve outlined some of the main things to know about the different types of arthritis below. If you’re concerned about your symptoms or think you might have any form of arthritis, speak to your GP.

If you’ve been diagnosed with any form of arthritis it’s likely that you’ll be under the care of a GP or specialist doctor who will discuss your treatment options with you and help manage ongoing care for your particular condition. Self-care advice will differ depending on the type of arthritis you have so it’s important to always follow the advice of your GP or specialist doctor. If you haven’t been diagnosed with arthritis but you think you may have arthritis speak to your GP in order to get a diagnosis and care plan in place.

Some conditions, whilst not forms of arthritis, might have arthritis as one of their symptoms (for instance lupus), whereas other conditions might be more likely to occur in people who have a form of arthritis (for instance cardiovascular disease). If you’re concerned that you might be experiencing any of the symptoms of these related conditions, speak to your GP.

Osteoarthritis causes joints to become difficult to move, stiff, and painful. Some people might also experience tenderness, swelling, and a crackling or grating sound when they move the affected joints. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, they may come and go, or they may be continuous and they can affect any joint but are most common in the knees, hips, and small joints of the hands.

Osteoarthritis happens when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones breaks down, leading to pain, swelling, redness, and problems moving the joint. The exact cause isn’t known, but risk factors can include joint injury, advancing age, a family history of osteoarthritis, obesity, and being female.

Secondary arthritis is when osteoarthritis occurs in joints that have been badly damaged by another previous or existing condition, like rheumatoid arthritis or gout.

You may also choose to access a Circle Health Group private specialist Orthopaedic Consultant for face-to-face assessment and, if appropriate, treatment.1

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints, most commonly in the wrists, hands and feet. The immune system which usually fights infection attacks the cells that line your joints by mistake, which leads to these symptoms. This can eventually cause damage to the joints, cartilage and nearby bones.

There might be times when symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis get worse, known as flare-ups or flares, however, it’s possible to reduce the frequency of flares and reduce or prevent long-term damage to the joints with treatment.

It’s not known what triggers rheumatoid arthritis, but risk factors include being female, a family history of rheumatoid arthritis, and being a smoker. If you think you might have rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to see your GP quickly, as early diagnosis and treatment enables many people to have periods of months or years between flares. Treatment can slow the progress of the condition and improve quality of life.

You may also choose to access a Circle Health Group private specialist Orthopaedic Consultant for face-to-face assessment and, if appropriate, treatment.1

Psoriatic arthritis affects almost one in three people with the skin condition psoriasis, and causes affected joints to become swollen, stiff and painful. It can affect any joint in the body but is most common in the knees, elbows, hands, feet, neck and spine.

It’s a long-term condition which can get worse over time, but early diagnosis and treatment can help relieve symptoms, slow down the progression of the condition and improve quality of life. If you have any symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, speak to your GP, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with psoriasis. If you’ve been diagnosed with psoriasis, you should have check-ups at least once a year to monitor your condition. Make sure you let the doctor know if you’re experiencing any problems with your joints.

You may also choose to access a Circle Health Group private specialist Orthopaedic Consultant for face-to-face assessment and, if appropriate, treatment.1

Gout is a form of arthritis that causes sudden, severe joint pain, and is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. If you produce too much uric acid or your kidneys don’t filter enough out, it can build up and cause crystals to form in and around your joints.

Symptoms of gout include sudden, severe joint pain usually in your big toe but can be any joint in your hands, feet, wrists, elbows or knees, swelling in and around the joint, red, shiny skin over the joint and the joint feeling hot and very tender. These symptoms come on rapidly in a few hours, and usually last between five to seven days, then gets better. You should see a GP if you have any symptoms of gout.

Whilst arthritis is more commonly found in older people, it can affect children too – most types are known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). They cause pain and inflammation in one or more joints, and last for a minimum of six weeks.

The cause of JIA is unknown, but often improves with age, which means that many children who’ve been impacted will be able to lead a normal life. Some of the different types of JIA include:

• Oligo-articular JIA (oligoarthritis)
• Polyarticular JIA (polyarthritis)
• Systemic onset JIA
• Enthesitis-related arthritis

The NHS has more information on the different types of JIA .

Enteropathic arthritis

Enteropathic arthritis is a type of chronic inflammatory arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease, the most common of which are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. It’s most common for arthritis symptoms to affect joints in the lower limbs and the spine.

Reactive arthritis

Reactive arthritis causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints and tendons, most commonly the knees, feet, toes, hips and ankles. It may also affect the genital tract and the eyes. It usually occurs following on from an infection, especially a sexually transmitted infection or food poisoning. For most people, it gets better within a few months and doesn’t cause any long-term issues.

Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the bones, muscles and ligaments of the spine leading to stiffness and joints fusing together. Other areas of the body become inflamed including the tendons, eyes and large joints. It can cause back pain and stiffness, pain and swelling in other parts of the body caused by inflammation of the joints, and extreme tiredness. It often develops in teenagers or young adults, and symptoms develop gradually and may come and go. Treatment can help to relieve symptoms and delay or prevent the process of spine fusing and stiffening.

Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is caused by ageing, leading to wear and tear to muscles and bones. It causes neck and shoulder stiffness or pain that comes and goes, or headaches that might start at the back of the neck. It’s most commonly found in people aged over 50. If you have these symptoms including pain that gets much worse, a lack of physical co-ordination, heaviness or weakness in your arms or legs, pins and needles in an arm along with pain, problems walking or loss of bladder or bowel control, see your GP. These can be signs of a more serious condition called cervical myelopathy which can cause permanent damage to the spine if it’s not treated.

Polymyalgia rheumatic

Polymyalgia rheumatic is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the muscles around the shoulders, neck and hips. The main symptom is muscle stiffness in the morning which lasts for longer than 45 minutes. Other symptoms can include loss of appetite, weight loss, depression and extreme tiredness. It mainly affects people over 70 and is very rare in those under 50. If you experience pain and stiffness for more than a week, visit your GP.


Whilst lupus isn’t a type of arthritis, joint pain can commonly occur in people who have lupus. As such, you might hear lupus and arthritis talked about together. As well as joint and muscle pain, the main symptoms of lupus are:

• Extreme tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest
• Rashes, usually over the nose and cheeks

People with lupus might also experience headaches, fever, light sensitivity (leading to rashes on uncovered skin), hair loss and mouth sores. Lupus symptoms can range from mild to severe. Often people find that their lupus flares up (known as a relapse) for a few weeks or longer, and then settles down (known as remission). Others may find that their symptoms are constant.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) frequently occurs in people with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s caused by pressure on a nerve in your wrist caused by your carpal tunnel swelling, which leads to tingling, numbness and pain in your hands and fingers.

Symptoms can include:
• Numb hands
• Tingling or pins and needles in the hands
• A weak thumb or having trouble gripping
• An ache or pain in your fingers, hand or arm

With CTS, symptoms often come on slowly, come and go, and they’re usually more severe at night.

The risk of getting CTS is increased by being overweight, pregnant, having another condition like arthritis or diabetes, having a parent or sibling with CTS, having a previous wrist injury, or work or hobbies that mean you repeatedly bend your wrist or grip hard.

There are ways of helping to treat CTS at home, including:

• Using a wrist splint or support
• Consider pain relief like paracetamol or ibuprofen, if suitable for you (always read the label). These should only be used regularly on a short-term basis
• Avoiding activities that require you to bend your wrist or grip hard a lot. If treating it at home isn’t working, or your symptoms get worse, speak to your GP.

Cardiovascular disease

In people with rheumatoid arthritis, there’s a higher-than-average risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), although the reasons for this aren’t clear. CVD refers to conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels and includes serious issues such as heart attacks or strokes.

The best ways of reducing the risk of developing CVD are to ensure your arthritis is well controlled, stop smoking if you do smoke, eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. You can read more about ways to support with living a healthy lifestyle via the Boots Health Hub Living Well page here.


Inflammation is a natural response to injury or infection, mounted by your immune system. It can cause swelling and is designed to help your body deal with invading germs. Inflammation is involved in all types of arthritis, but the cause of the inflammation is different for the different types. In auto-immune forms of arthritis, the immune system attacks the joints causing inflammation, these conditions are known as inflammatory arthritis.

Types of inflammatory arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis and enteropathic arthritis. However, non-inflammatory arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, can also cause inflammation, but this usually results from normal wear and tear to joints. The cartilage in your joints can become worn down over time, which means the bones in a joint rub together. This causes pain and stiffness.

Joint damage

Because of the affect that arthritis can have on joints, it can result in damage. The way this happens differs depending on the type of arthritis you have. In rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, it’s caused by inflammation.

Whichever type of arthritis you have, you should seek treatment for arthritis symptoms as early as possible and maintain a healthy lifestyle including eating well and frequent exercise, to reduce the risk of joint damage.

Although living with arthritis can be challenging, there are things you can do to help improve your quality of life, from self-care to related services available to you.

• Eating healthily: eating a healthy balanced diet can help ensure you get all of the nutrients you need, to help you to maintain a healthy weight which can ease pressure on your joints.

• Exercise: being active can help reduce or prevent pain, as long as you choose the right type and level for you. Your GP or specialist doctor can advise you on what’s best for you. You can read more about how to find an exercise routine that works for you here.

• Joint care: this simply means looking after your joints to help minimise further damage. This can include not gripping things too tightly, or using several joints to spread the weight of an object (for instance by using a rucksack).

• Adapting your home: there are some practical changes you can make at home to make life easier, for instance using a handrail to help you get up and down the stairs or using electric kitchen equipment (for instance an electric tin opener) to help you. You can browse the full range of mobility and daily living aids here

• Occupational therapy: occupational therapists can advise you on the equipment you might need to help you live independently with your condition if you have severe arthritis. Your GP may be able to refer you, or you might need to access it through your local council.

• Heat treatments: for instance the Cura-Heat Arthritis Pain Knee – 4 pack or Boots direct to skin heat patch can help to reduce pain associated with arthritis.

• Cold treatments: cold packs such as Boots hot or cold compress can help to reduce arthritis pain. Filling a hot water bottle with cold water can be an effective way of achieving this.

• Joint supports: like the Neo G Stabilised Open Knee Support – Universal Size or the Neo G Comfort/Relief Arthritis Gloves can help to provide warmth and compression.

• Physiotherapy: manual therapy, a form of physiotherapy where the physiotherapist uses their hands to stretch, mobilise and massage the tissue around your joints to keep them supple and flexible, can help with the symptoms of arthritis. Physiotherapists can also provide guidance on the type of exercise suitable for someone with arthritis. You can access online physiotherapy* through Boots Health Hub.

• Manage pain: you can access the Leva Specialist Pain Clinic1 through Boots. Leva offers an online pain clinic to help people living with chronic pain, using a multidisciplinary approach that might include medication, physiotherapy and talking therapies, depending on your needs. Find out more about the Leva Specialist Pain Clinic1. For face-to-face specialist assessment and advice, and if appropriate, diagnostics and treatment, from a private Orthopaedic Consultant at Circle Health Group please find out more on how to book here1.

In addition to the lifestyle changes and supportive measures covered in the ‘Living with arthritis’ section, there are other treatments available to help relieve symptoms and medication that may help, although the treatments suited to different types of arthritis will differ.

There are, however, broad categories of treatment that may be suitable for you if you’ve been diagnosed with a form of arthritis.

• Medication: there are several types of medicines that can be used to help treat arthritis, by helping to relieve symptoms or slow the progress of certain types of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis. Your GP or specialist doctor will discuss your options with you, taking into consideration the type of arthritis you have, and your overall health. If you have a regular prescription you can order your repeat prescription online using the Boots Online Prescription service, click here to find out more.

• Pain relief medicine: your doctor may advise you to use pain relief to relieve the pain caused by your arthritis, if suitable for you. This may include paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, as well as prescription medicines (always read the label). 

• Surgical treatment: not everyone who has arthritis will need surgery, but it can be an option to reduce pain and improve mobility. Types of surgery can include joint fusion or joint replacement surgery. Speak to your GP or specialist doctor to discuss your treatment options.

Bite-sized tips for pain relief

We're here to support you in managing pain. From advice to specialist services, we've got you covered!

1Subject to availability. Eligibility criteria may apply. Charges may apply.

2 Access to treatment is subject to an online consultation with a clinician to assess suitability. Subject to availability. Charges apply.

 For those aged 18 years and over. The quiz is not a medical assessment; for advice about your health, please speak to a doctor or pharmacist.

†You must be signed in & have an Advantage Card assigned to your account to be able to shop savings. Normal Advantage Card terms & conditions apply. Excludes in-store orders

Page last reviewed by Boots Pharmacy team on 30/05/2024

Arthritis is a common condition that is used to describe pain, inflammation and stiffness in joints. There are various types of arthritis that people experience. Osteoarthritis is where joints are stiff, painful and may cause swelling, it is most commonly found in the knees, hips and hands. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, that causes pain and swelling in the joints and is commonly found in the wrists, hands and feet. Psoriatic arthritis often affects those with psoriasis, causing stiff and painful joints, most commonly affecting the knees, elbows, hands, feet, neck and spine. At Boots, we can help you learn more about arthritis symptoms and tips on how to ease arthritis, as well products to help support you.