Updated 18 January 2017

Arthritis and changes to your home

If you have any form of arthritis, there is a lot that you can do to make your daily home life easier and more pain free.


Many of these things need not cost you a lot of money, but even the more expensive ones could save you a lot of pain in the long run. Sometimes careful planning goes a long way towards making your life a lot more comfortable.

The aim of any changes to your home is to reduce stress on your joints while you go about your daily tasks. This might include changing your working methods or installing special aids. Many of these things need not cost a fortune, but you might need to be fairly ingenious!

Doors and stairs

Round doorknobs are problematic, so it is better to install lever type ones. Door keys can also be modified to give them more leverage. Attaching a ready-made long key-holder can do this. Keys with a mortice lock have a large hole at the end into which a metal rod can be pushed to give it greater leverage.

Switches for electric lights should be of the flick or roll type. Old-fashioned cord pulls also are very effective.

Steps and stairs are problematic. Handrails installed on both sides of short staircases could make a difference. The alternative is building a ramp. A movable half-step could also make your life easier.

Chairs and tables

Remove all potential traps, such as loose carpets or cords on the floors. Have one chair in the sitting room that can be changed to suit your needs. Raising the chair can make getting up out of it much easier. Blocks can be put under the legs to make the chair higher.

Armrests should be positioned well forward, so that you can use them to push yourself up out of the chair. Put your hands flat on the armrests – don't push yourself up while bending your fingers, otherwise you could put unnecessary pressure on your finger joints.

A tilting table on castors could go a long way to making your life easier. Use a book rest while reading rather than holding the book. Use pens or pencils that are thick. Putting a piece of rubber around them also makes them easier to hold.

Tongs, trolleys, switches and dials

Pick-up tongs can make your life a lot easier as this will minimise the amount of bending and stretching you have to do. Tongs can also be used to do jobs such as drawing curtains and getting hold of things on high shelves.

A shopping basket on wheels is extremely important. Push the basket rather than pulling it as this will minimise the strain on your fingers. If shopping for clothing or even groceries is a problem, try the online ordering service offered by Pick n Pay and Woolworths. Clothing can also be ordered by mail order. If they don’t fit, you can return them.

Cord switches are always easier to use than push switches. Buy electric plugs with a small plastic handle at the back and use those TV and VCR remote controls. A cordless telephone can be a great help for anyone with limited mobility. Push-button dials are also easier than rotating dials. In South Africa a portable panic button linked to an armed response company is also becoming essential. This can be used in any crisis, such as if you fall in the bathroom, or there's a burglary at your home.

Helpful hints for the kitchen

Your work top level should be at a level comfortable for you. If you have arthritis, you should avoid standing for long periods of time. A high stool with a back support is essential. A shallow sink is better than a deep one. Swivel taps are also preferable, especially since these will allow you to fill containers while they are standing on the draining board. 

A microwave oven is wonderful as it allows you to defrost meals in a few minutes with the minimum of fuss. An oven and hob is also much easier than a stove standing on the floor. Raise your fridge off the floor by putting it on a counter, so that you won’t ever have to bend down to get anything out of it. Front-opening freezers are also easier to open than the chest-type freezers.

Sliding or rotating shelves are by far the best. Always use a swivel peeler with a large handle or pad the handle to make it easier to hold firmly. Food processors are invaluable as they cut out a lot of slicing, dicing and cubing. Wall-mounted electric tin and jar openers are also very convenient.

A sturdy trolley is good for transporting food to and from the kitchen. It should be high enough to serve as a support as well. It should be stable and should not tip when you lean against it.

Vegetables can be cooked in a wire basket, which can be lifted out of the water when done. When you have to lift things, do so with both hands. Get into a general habit of holding things in your palms rather than by your fingers.

The bathroom

The first thing you need to get is a long-handled sponge and a special mitten with a pouch for the soap. An electric razor causes less strain than standard razors and for men with arthritis, installing a shelf on which you can lean your arms while shaving may be helpful. An electric toothbrush will also minimise the strain on your joints.

Handrails next to the bath can help you get in and out safely. If you have problems with your hips and knees, installing a seat in the bath may be a good idea. A non-slip bath mat is essential. If even a bath seat is problematic, consider installing a slatted board over the bath and wash with a shower attachment.

A raised toilet seat is extremely useful as is a handrail next to the toilet. The raised toilet seat is light and can easily be removed if other people need to use the toilet. The toilet can also easily be converted to a push-button flush and the chain lengthened or the lever handle elongated.

The bedroom

Choosing the right bed is of the utmost importance. Ask your doctor for advice in this regard. Generally the bed should not be too low, as this would make it difficult for you to get up. A good orthopaedic mattress could go a long way to reducing stress on your muscles and joints.

A walk-in cupboard is something to consider. If this is not possible, cupboards with sliding doors on castors might be easier than cupboards with hinged doors and round handles. Pack your things in the higher shelves which are at eye and waist level.

Get rid of all loose carpets and other possible obstructions.

Read more:

7 everyday things that could be damaging your joints

Arthritis: how to keep safe in the kitchen



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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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