Chronic joint pain conditions such as arthritis can lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness, putting people at risk for a variety of issues including poor physical and mental health outcomes, an increased risk of premature death, and declines in cognitive abilities.
I recently did a short video on 10 Tips to Prevent FOMO with Chronic Joint Pain. While some individuals may have FOMO (fear of missing out), others may be so physically impaired, fatigued, and in pain, that they become socially isolated. Nevertheless, individuals with chronic joint pain conditions have different root causes or triggers underlying their inflammation, unique pain experiences, and varying social situations. Living with these conditions impacts their daily lives, and can lead to social isolation, often impacting their quality of life.
What is social isolation? Social isolation is a lack of social connections. Social isolation may be caused by circumstances such as living situations, physical or mental functional status, imposed societal restrictions (think pandemic), or even social rejection. Social isolation and loneliness, however, are not the same thing. Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact.
A review of studies during the pandemic suggested that older adults with osteoarthritis patients may experience worsening of their pain with social isolation and that more research was needed.1 Some individuals with joint conditions such as Ankylosing Spondylitis, self-isolate, and experience decreased quality of life and decreased quality of relationships due to their disease because of pain and disability.2 This is also true of individuals with psoriatic arthritis who experience both rash and joint pain and experience increased social phobia and social isolation.3 Furthermore, factors such as sleep loss due to pain is common in joint pain diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) which can lead to a lack of interest in social connections and social isolation. About 60‐80 % of patients with RA report insomnia compared to 10‐30 % in the general population.4
Why can social isolation be bad for you?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are a number of risk factors for being socially isolated. Physical factors and functional status impact social isolation, which are often issues in chronic joint pain conditions. Strong evidence suggests that, for older adults, social isolation and loneliness are associated with an increased likelihood of early death, dementia, heart disease, and other issues. Social isolation increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.5
How can you address social isolation?
Social isolation can be addressed by taking some proactive steps. Here are a few tips for managing chronic joint pain while avoiding social isolation:
- Join support groups or classes related to your condition
- Connect with people online who share your condition
- Visit family and friends regularly
- Join an exercise group or class
- Schedule regular activities with friends or family members
- Take part in social activities such as clubs, hobbies, or religious organizations.
Engaging with social support networks and taking these steps can help to manage chronic joint pain while avoiding social isolation. Pain may feel worse when you are lonely and isolated. Social connection is essential when managing chronic joint pain and improving overall well-being.
These steps may be relatively simple for some, but for others, their complex conditions can make this more challenging. Reaching out to organizations that support a specific chronic joint pain condition can help point you in a direction of more resources to help engage you and support you in addressing social isolation. Other agencies like the AARP, Area Agencies on Aging, National Council on Aging, or others can provide helpful tools and resources. If you’re feeling socially isolated due to your condition, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from these organizations and/or your healthcare provider.
1. Marks R. Osteoarthritis, COVID-19 Social Isolation-Impacts, and Counter Solutions. Journal of Aging Research and Healthcare. 2020;3(3). doi:10.14302/issn.2474-7785.jarh-20-3682
2. Patenaude S, Gerhart W. AB0923-PARE WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON THE QUALITY OF LIFE (QOL) OF PEOPLE LIVING WITH SPONDYLOARTHRITIS (SPA*)? Ann Rheum Dis. 2021;80(Suppl 1). doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2021-eular.1615
3. Khlystova EA, Lvov AN, Korotaeva T V, Serov DN, Potekaev NN, Zhukova O V. Quality of life and psychological aspects of patients with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Acta Derm Venereol. 2016;96.
4. NCT03766100. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia on Sleep in Rheumatoid Arthritis. https://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT03766100. Published online 2018.
5. Galambos C, Lubben J. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report. Innov Aging. 2020;4(Supplement_1). doi:10.1093/geroni/igaa057.2511
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.