Studying with Spondyloarthritis: My University Experience

In July 2017 I graduated from University with a Bachelors degree in Physiotherapy. When I started Uni back in September 2014 I was already under Rheumatology and had been for a number of years having dealt with joint problems since I was about 11 years old. However, it wasn't until November 2014 that I was actually diagnosed with an inflammatory arthritis that we weren't yet able to identify. I spent my entire Uni experience balancing a social life, uni work and my arthritis - or maybe "juggling" would be a better term for it. 

My degree was the perfect split of practical and theory, meaning I could go into Uni to practice various treatments and techniques with my peers, but I also needed to sit down and learn the theory behind these therapies and how to adapt them to individual patients in different settings. Over the three years, the practical aspect of my degree moved more to real life settings and was developed on placements, whereas our lectures, seminars and assignments focused more on the understanding of the application of Physiotherapy and Healthcare.

The most difficult thing I found about studying was finding where I could work best and adapting it to meet the demands of my arthritis. Everyone is individual in the way that they work, some people prefer to work in libraries whereas others prefer to work at home. I personally could only concentrate in my University library and so I spent a lot of my time doing assignments away from my flat. However, most of us know that sitting for any length of time isn't brilliant, and I found that if I were to sit for longer than 30-45 minutes that my joints became a lot more of a problem. Because of that, I tried to pace my work, much like I would if I knew I was going to have a really busy day with loads of walking/activity, so I would only do 30 minutes of work at a time and then I would get up and walk around for 5-10 minutes. But that posed other issues; I found it difficult to concentrate on assignments when I had to keep getting up for my joints and could easily loose my train of thought.

It took me a long while to work out how to write assignments in 30 minute bursts but I developed a method which worked well for me. I would start planning assignments long before they were due in. That meant that if I had a flare, or was unwell and couldn't work for a while, I was still ahead of the curve. When I planned assignments, I would first write a detailed checklist of everything that needed to be in it from the information our lecturers had given us (i.e. introduction - include X, Y, Z etc.). From that checklist, I would then make an extremely detailed mindmap for each section of the essay with references (which I would save onto my computer), and then I would check all the information on the mindmap against the mark scheme to make sure I hadn't missed anything. Where possible, I would organise a meeting with my module leader to make sure that I hadn't missed the point of the assignment before I started the actual essay. Now all of that takes a fair bit of time but at the end I had a mindmap which is essentially my assignment just not written in paragraphs, with all of the references I needed, and I knew that it was answering the assignment. It also meant that when I did need to take a break for my joints after 30 minutes of sitting, I wasn't going to loose my train of thought because it was already written down, it just needed to be put into paragraphs. 

An example of one of my mindmaps
for part of an assignment

I also made sure to keep one of my lecturers up to date with how my arthritis had been. I had numerous flares while at University which weren't easy to deal with but having someone on the inside, so to speak, know about my condition and how it was affecting me was really important. I knew about what services were available to me and my University, as most will, had a Student Support and Wellbeing Service where I could seek further advice about getting help with my studies had I needed it. My Rheumatology team also repeatedly offered to write letters to my University to have extensions on any assignments because of my joints, to provide a stronger case if I wanted, which I think would have been very useful if I had a flare that stopped me being able to work. However, keeping my Rheumatology team in the loop about how my arthritis impacted my Uni work was very useful and was a discussion we had at most appointments.

I think the most important thing to know about studying with arthritis is finding a way that you can work effectively without overdoing it for your joints, and seeking support wherever you need it. It does take time to learn about how you learn best, but once you know it can also take time to work out how to make it work for your joints too


  1. I agree with you about doing things in short bursts. My notes were not as good as yours, but I did learn to write papers including my dissertation in short bursts. Not sitting or trying to sit all day made such a big difference.

    1. Completely agree, I think being able to write essays/papers in short bursts is one of the most essential skills for working with a rheumatic condition


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