Just be a Man: How Arthritis Can Affect the Physical & Mental Health of Men
Updated: Jun 24
Arthritis is an umbrella term that encompasses more than 100 rheumatic conditions. It affects 1 out of 5 Canadians and according to Life with Arthritis In Canada from 2010, at least 12.6% of men and 19.2% of women in Canada will suffer a type of arthritis by 2021, In celebration of the Canadian Men's Health Week from June 15 to June 21, 2020, I will be posting about Men and Arthritis. Over the years, my husband has been my rock, my life, my caregiver, now he is experiencing caregiver's burn out and osteoarthritis of his hands. Even though arthritis occurs in more women than men (1 in 4 for women vs. 1 in 6 for men), it is important to bring awareness to the different obstacle’s that men with arthritis face.
The two common types of arthritis in men are osteoarthritis and gout. Osteoarthritis is a noninflammatory disease that happens when the joint’s cartilage and its surrounding bone break down. Gout is an inflammatory disease that is caused when small crystals filled with the uric acid form on the joints and the body attacks these crystals, which can be extremely painful. Just like women, men have to cope with the pain, stiffness, swelling and deformities that come along with having arthritis. It’s how they cope that is usually different. I have also come across men suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Sjogren's Syndrome, Psoriatic Arthritis, and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. (Click on each condition to read about the great advocacy work by men with arthritis.)
Little boys often hear phrases like, “be a man,” and “men don’t cry,” which teaches them qualities that will prove their ‘manliness’ aka to not talk about their feelings, to fight through the pain and to go through it on their own. Men constantly face pressures to look strong (no matter how much they are hurting) and they are fearful of appearing weak to others. This combination is the reason why many men don’t seek treatment for physical and mental health problems. This harmful ideal of what a man should be forces them to sit in silence.
How Does Arthritis Affect Men Physically?
Emily, my nutrition student and I started thinking about our men in our lives. Emily's dad and my husband work in the trades. They lift heavy weights, use tools that vibrate and are constantly on their feet, which all aggravate one’s arthritis. But the work environment of a construction worker affects their arthritis too. The risk of osteoarthritis and gout increased when the individual carries excessive weight. This puts a strain on their bones and joints and may increase uric acid in the blood.
Construction workers often buy food from the food trucks or fast-food restaurants since there’s no microwave to heat up food from home or a refrigerator to store food in. The food trucks often bring unhealthy options like donuts and fries. It is also typical for after a 9-10-hour workday, the crew will go grab a beer after their shift. Some workers may not eat that much during the day because of dust, dirt and birds/insects (if their area of construction requires them to work outside). Then when they go home, they raid their refrigerators and go to bed straight after. All of these components cause weight gain, digestive issues, and can even exacerbate pain and fatigue.
Typical men’s health problems are heart disease and diabetes, not only will weight gain affect their arthritis but it will increase their chances of developing other chronic health conditions. Also, in certain construction sites, there are no proper chairs or tables to eat lunch on. Some of these workers have to sit on pipes or place on the ground, which can cause a bad flare-up.
How Does Arthritis Affect Men Mentally?
People with arthritis are more likely to experience poor mental health than the general population. All forms of arthritis cause daily pain and living with pain heightens emotions and stresses. Now imagine men who work in labour-intensive jobs like construction, their muscles, bones and joints are being overworked 5 or 7 days a week. It seems like the constant pain would poorly affect their mental health, especially because they often suppress what they are feeling. When they do not tell a loved one how stressed or anxious, they are feeling, this can only worsen pain and their mental health.
There’s also the other aspect that if you are suffering from a mental health illness like depression or anxiety, that it may affect how you take care of your body, in particular how you manage your arthritis. Poor mental health may make you feel helpless and that there’s nothing you can do to fix your condition. This can change how you perceive your arthritis by making you not care anymore- adapting to what’s done is done mentality. My husband will say "mind over matter" and ignore significant signs of pain and refuse to seek help.
Mental health is an important aspect of your overall health and well-being, and it needs to be taken seriously. Some signs and symptoms of poor mental health are feeling sad, excessive fears, extreme mood change, withdrawal from activities and loved one, tiredness, low energy, easily irritable, and reduced ability to concentrate.
A good way to identify signs of depression is with S.A.L.S.A:
Sleep disturbance Anhedonia (loss of interest or pleasure in doing things that used to enjoy) Low Self-esteem Appetite decrease
If any of these symptoms become uncontrollable or are taking over your life, please seek help from a mental health professional because if untreated, mental illness can become detrimental for both your mental and physical health.
For more information on Men's Health, visit the Canadian Men's Health Foundation
Our next blog post will focus on the strategies to help men living with arthritis and thrive.
Special thanks to Emily Malfara, a 4th-year nutrition student at Ryerson University who assisted with the research and writing for this post.