11 most common MYTHS of Arthritis
Arthritis is often referred to as a single disease. In fact, it is an umbrella term for more than 100 medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, specifically joints where two or more bones meet. Arthritis is a common affliction of the ageing process, with over 3.9 million Australians currently suffering from arthritis, which is expected grow to 5.4 million by 2030.
Simply put, arthritis is inflammation in joints and surrounding tissue that causes pain and debilitation. However, with over 100 conditions falling under the scope of arthritis, there are a lot of discerning facts from myths about the symptoms, treatments and environmental factors that trigger pain can be daunting.
This article looks to separate the fact from fiction. What are the real facts on what causes, cures, hinders, and helps arthritis and joint pain. You can also read our article on the 3 most common forms of arthritis – read article here.
11 myths of Arthritis
Myth 1: There’s only one kind of arthritis
“There’s a perception that arthritis is arthritis, just like some people think cancer is cancer,” says Mark Genovese, MD, a rheumatologist and professor at the Stanford School of Medicine. “But it’s just not true.” It could be gout, crystals, autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis, virus-caused arthritis or as many as 100 other kinds of the disease. That means if you think—or know—you have arthritis, you should slow down before you stock up on glucosamine supplements. Managing arthritis can’t start until you know what type you have, says Dr. Genovese. The best course of action if your joint pain is bothersome? Go see a doctor and find out what you’ve got.
Myth 2: Arthritis isn’t that common
“It is one of the most common conditions in the population,” says Dr. Matteson. “As you get older, almost everyone gets some form of arthritis. It’s usually wear-and-tear arthritis, or osteoarthritis.” That means you’re not alone—and are far from it. In fact, Americans spend more treating arthritis than they do cancer. In Australia 15.3% of the population (3.5 million people) had arthritis, with prevalence higher amongst women than men (18.3% compared with 12.3%). In 2014-15, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) states that of persons with arthritis, more than half (58.9%) had osteoarthritis (deterioration of cartilage inside a joint), 11.5% had rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease in which the body is attacked by bacteria or viruses) and 34.8% had an unspecified type of arthritis. Note that as it is possible to have more than one type of arthritis, proportions add to more than 100%.
Myth 3: All joint pain is arthritis
There are more than 50 types of arthritis, but having a swollen, achy joint does not mean you have one of them. “You need to be properly diagnosed and treated,” says Elaine Husni, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center Orthopedic and Rheumatologic Institute, at the Cleveland Clinic, “You may not even have arthritis, but rather a soft tissue injury or bursitis.” Other conditions, such as tendonitis, bursitis or other soft-tissue injuries also cause joint pain. Only a visit to a doctor will tell you for sure.
Myth 4: I can’t do anything about my disease
“Arthritis can profoundly change your life, especially if it impacts weight-bearing joints or if you work with your hands a lot,” says Eric Matteson, MD, Chair of the Department of Rheumatology at Mayo Clinic. But, don’t give up, he says. There’s a whole lot you can do about it, too. After finding out what type of arthritis you have, the first step may be weight loss, he says, because a lighter load will lessen pressure on your joints. Exercise combined with a healthy diet and necessary medications can often help those suffering from most types of arthritis maintain a mostly normal lifestyle, he says. On top of that, pain relief treatments, such as medications or, in extreme cases, cortisone shots, may also be an option.
Myth 5: Exercise can aggravate joint pain.
Possibly the biggest myth of them all. Exercise is beneficial for everyone, with or without arthritis, says Dr. McQuillan. Yet only 13% of men and 8% of women with knee osteoarthritis get the minimum recommended amount of weekly movement. If you are in pain, the best workouts are low-impact, range-of-motion-based exercises, such as the stationary bike, water aerobics, yoga, tai chi or swimming. Low impact aerobics and stretching, even during a pain flare, will help ease the pain of arthritis. “The most important thing is just to get more movement in your life,” says Dr. Husni. “The more exercise you do, the better your range of motion.”
Myth 6: There’s no way to prevent joint damage caused by arthritis
Everyday Health reports, “Arthritis medications — including COX-2 inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anti-TNF compounds, corticosteroids, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) — can help reduce inflammation, relieve painful symptoms, and prevent joint damage.” In patients who delay treatment, “we can see drastic erosions in joints in as little as three to six months, which don’t grow back,” says Dr. Husni. It’s best to see your doctor to determine a treatment plan that can help you maintain your quality of life and better manage your condition.
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Myth 7: Heat is better for arthritis than cold
Both heat and cold are beneficial to help alleviate arthritis pain. Ice reduces inflammation in joints and heat relaxes the muscles and tendons around the joint. Applying ice at night can ease joint inflammation arising from daily activities. Applying heat in the morning can relax the muscles that move stiff joints.
Myth 8: Diet has no effect on arthritis pain
There are definitely foods to add to the diet that can help manage arthritis pain. The foods that can help the most, according to Lona Sandon, RD and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, are those traditionally included in a Mediterranean diet, such as olive oil, lean meats and fish, vegetables and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Diet is especially important because people with arthritis are more likely to have type 2 diabetes, heart disease or be obese. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight can help ward off certain types of arthritis. “Keeping close to your ideal weight will be protective against osteoarthritis,” says Dr. McQuillan, because obesity has been linked to osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.
Myth 9: Topical ointments made from hot chilli peppers don’t work
Capsaicin is the ingredient in hot chilli peppers and when applied to joints it can help to block nerve pain. While it will not cure arthritis and it can irritate the skin, Arthritis Research UK reports, “Several studies have found that capsaicin can use up Substance P. Substance P plays an important role in transmitting pain signals from nerve endings to your brain. It’s also involved in activating inflammatory substances in joints.”
Myth 10: Supplements like glucosamine benefit everyone with arthritis
Glucosamine is a natural compound that’s found in your joints and the cartilage around them, says Eric Matteson, MD, Chair of the Department of Rheumatology at Mayo Clinic. And although this supplement is widely available and helpful to some people, it doesn’t do what most people think it does. “Patients think taking it as a pill will rebuild joints,” he says. But it doesn’t. “Unless you inject it into the joint” — which can be done at your doctor’s office — “there’s no way of getting it into your joints,” he says. “And it doesn’t restore your joints, although some people say they get some pain relief from it in the short term.”
Myth 11: Damp, cold weather conditions trigger arthritis pain
Anecdotal stories about arthritis suffers predicting wet weather via pain cues abound but there is no scientific evidence to support the connection. However, there is an unsubstantiated theory that a drop in barometric pressure might cause a slight expansion in joints, which might exacerbate pain.
While there are about 100 forms of arthritis, the three most significant – osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout – account for more than 95% of cases in Australia.
Right now, because scientists don’t fully understand the causes or mechanisms behind these diseases, true prevention seems to be impossible. However, there is real hope that someday some or all types of arthritis and related conditions can be prevented.
We strongly recommend seeking advice from you doctor for more information on arthritis, detailed facts, symptoms and possible diagnosis.
Read more on the importance of staying healthy over 60 in volume 2.
Volume two: Looking after your health and well-being after 60
– Myths and Facts About Joint Pain. 9 September 2012. By Felissa Benjamin; Medically reviewed by Ed Zimney, MD. Read article
– Top 10 Arthritis Pain Myths. 9 February 2015. By Alana Marie Burke. Read article
– 8 Myths About Arthritis—Busted! 9 March 2012. By Erin Dostal. Read article
– ABS, National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Arthritis and Osteoporosis. 8 December 2015. Read article
– 6 Myths About Joint Pain and Arthritis. Cleveland Clinic. 23 August 2012. By Bone, Muscle and Joint Team. Read article
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