Arthritis Research UK is the leading UK funder of research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis, and a recent partner to Design Council Spark, our innovation fund in which we help new inventors develop their products and fast-track them to market. Arthritis Research UK joined the Summer 2016 programme to attract innovative ideas that address the issues of musculoskeletal conditions. 

We spoke to their Research Translation Manager, Sarah Odoi and asked her to share five surprising facts about arthritis.  

1.  The term 'arthritis' encompasses over 200 different conditions

Arthritis is a condition that affects the bones, muscles and joints, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other conditions such as back pain. It also includes gout, which many people do not immediately think of as arthritis.

2. Arthritis is not just an 'old person’s' disease

More than 10 million people live with arthritis in the UK, 15,000 of whom are children and young people.  

3. Arthritis is the second biggest cause of sick leave in the UK

Following issues related to mental illness, joint pain is the biggest cause of work days lost in the UK.  Joint pain has a huge impact on people’s lives. It can cause discomfort and stiffness, making movements that most of us take for granted, such as sitting, standing and walking, very difficult and uncomfortable to the point where they need to be avoided. Small things like squeezing a bottle or using a keyboard would be a struggle for someone with arthritis in their hands. Equally, getting up from a chair or standing for long periods can be arduous and very painful if you have arthritis in your knees. 

4. One well-designed product can be life-changing for someone with arthritis

Most of us don't think out our ability to get dressed, prepare meals and take part in activities such as gardening as anything special. However, for someone with arthritis these can be a very big deal. Products designed to make these tasks easier can completely change the quality of life and help an arthritis sufferer to live more independently. For example, good design of clothes fastening can help someone with hand osteoarthritis to dress themselves, and a shampoo bottle that does not need to be gripped can keep someone washing their own hair.

It's remarkable the impact that a seemingly simple idea can have. There are products that help people to turn their keys in a door or car by providing extra grip and leverage, tools to pick things up easily without bending over, special handles to help grip shopping bags, and chopping boards with fixed graters and peelers to aid food preparation and relieve strain on the wrists.  There are so many and each one of these products has had an impact that you can’t even imagine on someone's physical and mental well-being and overall quality of life. 
That’s why joining the Design Council Spark programme was so important for us - because good design can have a huge and positive impact on people’s lives.

5. Arthritis UK helps to fund new inventions to ease arthritic symptoms

Replacing joints severely affected by arthritis with artificial joints has been revolutionary, and designs of joint replacements have improved significantly over time, thanks in part due to research we have funded. However, while such innovations have improved the quality of life, joint replacement is a last resort treatment and a highly invasive procedure which is not successful in all patients. Ongoing research is looking for new and innovative solutions, for example using stem cells to repair cartilage.

Having seen some of the innovative entries into Spark last year, we were hoping that the same creativity would be applied to everyday practical issues faced by people with arthritis. We want people to really understand the reality of living with arthritis, and how it can really limit people’s independence.

There are millions of people living with the pain of arthritis right now, we want to be able to make a difference to their quality of life.  We are really looking forward to seeing how the ideas that have come through Design Council Spark have embraced inclusive design.  

Finalists who complete Design Council Spark’s 20-week support programme will have the opportunity to pitch for a share of £150k to help progress their product to market. With the support of Arthritis Research UK, Design Council will also award one finalist a further £50k funding if their product invention is designed to assist those with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. 

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