Exercise May Be an Effective Alternative Treatment Option for Arthritis

CDC investigators assessed recent state-specific data on the prevalence of arthritis and, in doing so, observed an association between severe joint pain and physical inactivity in adults with arthritis.

Physical activity is an inexpensive yet effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for many patients with an arthritis diagnosis, according to research results published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in an effort to estimate the current, state-specific prevalence of arthritis, as well as severe joint pain and physical inactivity within that group. The median response rate was 45.9% (range, 30.6%-64.1%), with 435,331 adults reporting arthritis status and age. Within that group, 144,099 reported having physician-diagnosed arthritis.

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The prevalence of age-specific arthritis was higher with increasing age (8.1% in adults age 18-44 years and 50.4% in adults ≥65 years) and was significantly higher among women (25.4% vs 19.1%). In addition, non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaskan natives reported the highest rates of arthritis (29.7%) compared with other racial and ethnic groups (range, 12.8%-25.5%). Among respondents with arthritis, no/mild, moderate, and severe joint pain were reported by 36.2%, 33%, and 30.8% of respondents, respectively. In addition, physical inactivity prevalence increased with age, from 31% to 37% in participants age 18-44 years and participants ≥65 years, respectively.

The median, age-standardized prevalence of arthritis in adults was 22.8% (range, 15.7%-34.6%), with the highest concentrations in Appalachia and the Lower Mississippi Valley. Among these adults, severe joint pain and physical inactivity were most common in southeastern states (severe joint pain median 30.3% [range, 20.8%-45.2%]; physical inactivity median 33.7% [range, 23.2%-44.4%]). Adults with severe joint pain were most likely to be physically inactive (47%) vs adults with moderate (31.8%) or mild/no joint pain (22.6%).

Limitations to the study included the self-reported nature of the data obtained via Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, low response rates for specific states, and the exclusion of institutional populations.

Although persons with arthritis experience challenges associated with performing physical activity, the researchers emphasized that “physical activity is an inexpensive intervention that can reduce pain, prevent or delay disability and limitations, and improve mental health, physical functioning, and quality of life with few adverse effects.”

The researchers concluded, “Effective, inexpensive physical activity and self-management education programs are available nationwide and can help adults with arthritis be safely and confidently physically active.”


Guglielmo D, Murphy LB, Boring MA, et al. State-specific severe joint pain and physical inactivity among adults with arthritis — United States, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(17):381-387.