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For people living with arthritis, there is no “typical” day. Pain and fatigue can change based on medications, sleep, diet, amount of exercise and so much more. However, symptom tracking is one way to take control.

“Information is power, and for people with arthritis, the information is within themselves,” said Arthritis Research Canada’s Senior Scientist, Dr. Linda Li. “Being able to have everything recorded and see the full picture is really useful in terms of managing a person’s disease and overall health.”

If you want to start tracking your arthritis symptoms and daily activities, please review the frequently asked questions, videos, articles and other resources below.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is "tracking"?

When we talk about tracking for people with arthritis, it means people are keeping a record of the daily symptoms and activities that are important to them. So, people may be doing a diary of how their pain, fatigue, and mood change over time. This can help people understand whether or not their condition is under control, as well as how daily activities impact arthritis symptoms. 

Why is tracking beneficial?

It’s not easy to remember everything that happens on specific days, especially in the time between medical appointments. When people track their symptoms and disease activity over time, it creates a rich picture for them to be able to communicate with their health care providers. Health professionals can then use this information to recommend and tailor treatments to meet each person’s needs. 

What should people with arthritis track?

Here are some of the symptoms and activities people might find useful to track: 

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Mood
  • Physical activity
  • Sleep (duration and quality)
  • Medications
  • Stress levels (and stressful events)
  • Work/work hours

What are some methods people can use to track?

While no tracking methods will work for everyone, here are some methods to choose from: 

  • Notebook
  • Calendar (print or digital)
  • Apps
  • Fitness trackers

Why is tracking physical activity important for people living with arthritis?

Being physically active is important because it helps individuals to manage their symptoms better. People often avoid movement when they are in pain. However, this can cause joints to become stiff and muscles to become weak. Maintaining a good level of physical activity, and using targeted therapeutic exercise, can help to keep muscles strong, joints flexible and reduce the level of stiffness and pain that a person experiences. People also find that, when they are physically active, their medication works better in terms of controlling symptoms and disease activity.

What are the benefits of exercise for people living with arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of heart disease. We also know that physical activity is one of the most powerful interventions for decreasing that risk in the general population, as well as in people with arthritis. So, not being physically active increases heart disease risk. For people with osteoarthritis, which often affects older adults, being physically active is particularly important because it is not only good for joint health, but also heart and brain health. The key is knowing how much or little physical activity to do each day and how it impacts arthritis symptoms. This is different for every individual. Tracking symptoms and physical activity can help people understand how exercise type and frequency impact symptoms.

What arthritis research has been done about tracking?

Since 2014, Arthritis Research Canada’s scientists have worked with patient partners to look at strategies to help individuals keep a record of their symptoms and physical activity and use that information to work with their health professionals. Scientists worked with people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Through a series of projects with people living with osteoarthritis, scientists discovered that using a wearable device and app to track physical activity (coupled with counselling from a physiotherapist), allowed people to increase their physical activity over time and develop a habit. Their pain levels were also better controlled.

More recently, scientists did this work with individuals living with rheumatoid arthritis and found that peoples’ ability to manage their health improved substantially. This research suggests that an individual’s ability to record what they experience and do during the day allows them to see patterns and share this information with health professionals. It also improves a person’s ability to take control of their health and get more value out of their interactions with health care providers. In people with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers also found that fatigue and depression decreased and people perceived that they were able to walk more during the day.

What research-based tools has Arthritis Research Canada created to help with tracking?

Arthritis Research Canada’s Senior Scientist, Dr. Linda Li, has worked with a group of patient partners and health professionals to develop an app called OPERAS, which is an online journal that allows people to track their arthritis symptoms, disease activity and treatments over time. OPERAS can also be paired with a wearable, such as a Fitbit, to obtain information about a person’s physical activity and sleep quality.

OPERAS is unique because it includes a dashboard that allows people to see what they record for their symptoms and disease activity alongside what they do during the day and how they sleep at night. So, over time, users are able to see the relationship between what they do and how they feel during the day. Another unique feature is that people can share the information recorded in OPERAS with others. For example, if someone is having a telehealth consult with their rheumatologist or physiotherapist, they can send information or give OPERAS profile access to their health care provider ahead of time. This allows patients and health care providers to have the full picture in front of them during their conversation.

Based on feedback from patient partners involved in this research, OPERAS allows for a more meaningful conversation between patients and health care providers. It also helps health care providers to better prescribe and recommend treatments based on each patient’s needs. Researchers created OPERAS because they worked with patient partners over the years and heard that people want tools – they want a way to be able to conveniently record their symptoms, what they do and how they feel over time. OPERAS is still in the research phase, but we will share more information when the app becomes available for public use.


OPERAS App: Your Health Companion to Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

OPERAS (On-demand Program to EmpoweR Active Self-management) is a web/mobile app designed to help people with rheumatoid arthritis track and monitor their health. The app was developed through collaboration between patient partners and health professionals and was designed to help people with arthritis understand what triggers a flare, the influence of physical activity on their health, and how different symptoms may relate to each other so they can gain a better understanding of their disease activity.

Dr. Linda Li on Physical Therapy Through Virtual Care, Goal Setting & the OPERAS Study

In this Arthritis Broadcast Network video, Dr. Linda Li, Senior Scientist at Arthritis Research Canada, shares her insights on delivering physical therapy services through virtual care, goal setting in physical activity, and the OPERAS study (and how it can help you).


OPAM-IA: A Physical Activity Intervention

OPAM-IA is a program that uses Fitbit Flex (wireless physical activity tracker) paired with FitViz (new application), and physical activity counselling to help people with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus be more physically active safely and at their own pace

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Study Helps Patients Connect the Dots Between Symptoms and Appropriate Exercise

The goal of the OPERAS study is to determine whether an app-based program can assist patients with managing their condition and also help them identify when their disease flare-ups – which can present as increased joint pain, swelling, and fatigue – warrant a doctor’s visit.

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Not Just a Disease of the Elderly

Discover one patient partner’s experience of being involved in research about tracking physical activity and how it has impacted her life with osteoarthritis.

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What I Learned About My Rheumatoid Arthritis By Using a Health Tracker to Participate in Research (and How You Can Too)

Getting involved in arthritis research taught patient advocate Eileen Davidson a lot more about how to live with rheumatoid arthritis than she would have learned on her own.

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How a Fitness Tracker Helped Me Understand and Manage My Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Discover how tracking her physical activity gave Eileen Davidson a deeper understanding of her rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and answered many questions she had about her overall health.

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Helpful Links

Dr. Linda Li Discussing OPERAS App on Global News

Arthritis Research Canada’s Senior Scientist, Dr. Linda Li, discusses her research to create and test an app that enables people with arthritis to track their symptoms and physical activity over time.

Learn More

30-Day Exercise Challenge for Arthritis

Arthritis Research Canada’s Senior Scientist, Dr. Linda Li, and Clinician Investigator, Dr. Jasmin Ma, have teamed up with the Arthritis Patient Advisory Board to bring you a 30-day exercise challenge.

Learn More

I START Toolkit

Want to add strength training to your exercise routine? Our researchers have designed a guide specifically for people living with arthritis and for the health and exercise professionals who work with them.

Learn More