Updated 18 January 2017

Arthritis and shopping

Doing shopping is a necessary part of life – but one that can become problematic if you have arthritis. Here’s how to go about it.

Any shopping trip – whether you’re buying groceries, clothes, gifts or furniture – can become a potentially painful experience if you have arthritis. Even if you have a disk and can park in a disabled zone, shopping still involves walking fair distances, sometimes carrying heavy purchases.

And it’s not only walking. It’s also bending down to pick things off the lower shelves, stretching to get things off the higher shelves, lifting things into your shopping trolley and unpacking everything when you get to the cashier.

Read: What is osteoarthritis?

Here are a few ideas from the Arthritis Foundation and Arthritis Research UK:

Plan properly. This is the most essential thing to do to take the sting out of a shopping trip. Make a list of what you want to buy and plan where and how you want to buy it. Plan your trip through the supermarket so that you don’t go down the same aisle more than once.

Sudden detours or trips to other stores to find products can turn the trip into a nightmare.

Use the telephone. Find out beforehand whether particular things you’re looking for are in stock, so you don’t make an unnecessary trip.

Shops usually have stock records on computers and can check for you easily. This holds true for all shopping expeditions – whether you’re looking for a new pair of shoes or a toaster. Many shops have catalogues online, so you can check out the products at home rather than on foot.

Take someone with you. Preferably someone young and strong who can do lifting and carrying and bending, so you don’t have to. If you’re having a bad day, the friend or relative might just be willing to do your shopping for you.

Buy a reacher. These are available from medical supply stores and will enable you to pick up items placed on high shelves.

Do online shopping. Many shops will do home deliveries at a small extra charge. And if you’re lucky, you might even persuade the delivery person to help you unpack it – for a small tip, of course.

Read: What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Ask for help at the supermarket. There may be staff on hand to assist you while you do your shopping. There’s no harm in asking. Staff are also often available to help you get things to the car and pack them in. If you have difficulty doing this on your own, phone the shop beforehand to find out whether assistance is available.

Use the trolley to lean on. This can take some of the weight off your back and feet and can function a bit like a walker, without you having to take your own all the way to the shop.

Get a shopping basket on wheels. This takes all the weight of the shopping off you if you have to walk home from the shopping centre.

Choose your shoes carefully. Nothing spoils an outing quite as much as an uncomfortable pair of shoes. Make sure they’re supportive and easy to walk in. Never wear new shoes for the first time when going shopping.

Wheelchair services. Many of the larger shopping centres have wheelchairs available for customers with mobility problems. Take a friend or partner with you who can push you around. You could also ask for assistance from the shop itself.

Read: Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis

Plastic bags are not ideal. These can dig into arthritic hands, especially if you don’t have firm handle-grip inserts. Paper bags might be easier to carry, as you can clutch them to your body.

Don’t buy too much. Limit your purchases, otherwise you’ll have just too much stuff to carry and to organise. Rather go online for bulk purchases.

Pack away perishables first. Put everything away that needs to go into the fridge or the freezer. Then take a rest, before you tackle the tins and packets.

Read More:

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Arthritis... How to choose the right furniture 

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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