True Or False: Arthritis Myths
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about arthritis. How many of you have heard and been disheartened by things like “there’s nothing you can do about arthritis symptoms,” or “I shouldn’t exercise,” or even “one of my habits, like cracking my knuckles, gave me arthritis”?
It’s so important to know what’s true and false when it comes to arthritis, so you have enough information to make informed decisions and not avoid things that could actually help your arthritis. To find out more, we spoke to a few people at Arthritis Action, a UK charity giving hands-on, practical help to improve the quality of life of people affected by arthritis.
True or false: It’s just old people who get arthritis
Dr Wendy Holden, Consultant Rheumatologist & Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor tells us more.
“It’s not true at all that arthritis only affects older people. Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the UK and can affect people of all ages, not just older people. There are thought to be over 10 million people with arthritis in the UK. Osteoarthritis is more common as we get older, but rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of so-called inflammatory arthritis can start at any age including in babies.
“Some types of arthritis can affect much younger people, including children and even babies. This type of arthritis is called juvenile inflammatory arthritis and is a problem to do with the immune system attacking the joints causing swelling, pain and stiffness. Although some children grow out of this condition as they get older, it can persist and can cause significant pain and disability including difficulty with sports, problems socialising and feelings of isolation and depression.”
True or false: Things like cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis
Dr Wendy explains that it won’t cause arthritis, but some people would prefer it if you didn’t do it.
“Cracking the knuckles doesn’t cause arthritis but it can be a habit that others find irritating! No one knows what makes the popping sound when we crack our knuckles but there is a theory that it could be due to bubbles of gas being released inside the joint. This fits with the observation that after a popping noise, the joints can’t be cracked again for a while.”
True or False: All joint pain is arthritis
“Having pain in the joints does not automatically mean that you have arthritis,” says Dr Wendy. “Many people with badly damaged joints due to arthritis experience little or no pain in their joints and others who have no joint damage may feel a lot of pain.
“Pain is extremely complex and not very well understood. Whilst joint injury is an obvious cause of pain, once an injury has healed, some people can still experience pain, even though there is no longer an obvious cause. This is thought to be due to changes in the nervous system and brain whenever pain is experienced or felt.”
True or False: People who run are more likely to get arthritis
FALSE - but don’t overdo it!
Running is a high-impact exercise, as your feet are hitting the ground as you move quickly. High-impact, high-stress regular running is associated with a greater risk of joint deterioration. Recreational running a few times a week at around 8 minutes per mile (which is nearly 5 minutes per kilometre) is not thought to increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
David Vaux, Arthritis Action Therapies Manager & Exercise Lead, recommends low-impact exercises if you have arthritis, but there’s no need to avoid the activities you enjoy.
“Low-impact exercises are good for minimising impact across the surface of a joint, such as the impact of hitting the floor while running or jumping. Some good examples might be road or exercise biking, rowing machines, swimming, or a circuit class that focuses on non-jarring movements,” says David.
“That’s not to say that high-intensity exercise should be strictly avoided for those with arthritis. It just depends on your own level of activity and movement. An individual with arthritis can find ways to take part in great exercise sessions whilst avoiding a specific movement that aggravates their specific painful joints. Everyone is different, so the best exercises for each person are also different.”
True or False: There is no cure for arthritis
Whilst there is no cure for arthritis, there are things you can do to manage your symptoms and live a full life. Dr Wendy gives some key insights.
“There is no absolute cure for arthritis, however there are many ways to manage your condition and help reduce painful symptoms. Some of these can be provided by healthcare professionals, such as surgery or prescription medicines, but there are also many ways you can manage your condition yourself.
“There are a variety of approaches and techniques to address both the physical and mental impact of arthritis. Arthritis affects people differently, so each individual can choose the techniques that help them live a fuller, more active, life whilst living with the condition.”
Options to help manage your symptoms of arthritis include:
- Try to keep to a healthy weight. For every pound that you are above a healthy weight, an extra 4 or 5 pounds of weight goes through your hips, knees and feet. This can increase the pain you feel in those joints.
- Keep your muscles strong and do some exercise. Exercise that increases muscle strength can really help support the joints and reduce the pain of osteoarthritis.
- Keep to a healthy diet. Eating healthily can help maintain muscle and bone strength, and help you keep to a healthy weight.
- Try to relax to help manage the pain better. Distraction, meditation, reducing stress and trying to help your sleep can all help reduce pain.
True or False: Exercise is bad for arthritis
Exercise is actually really important for managing the symptoms of arthritis and can decrease pain long term.
“Many people with arthritis worry that exercise can harm the joints, but this is not true,” says David Vaux. “In fact, regular exercise is essential as it helps to strengthen the muscles that protect and support the joints. Exercise has even been proven to help reduce the pain of arthritis and improve function. It is normal to sometimes feel a little sore or uncomfortable after exercise, especially if it is something you haven’t done for a while, but it is important to remember that this does not mean that you are harming your joints.
“Osteoarthritis is not caused by too much exercise, and hard work does not damage the joints. People who have had sporting injuries are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in that joint, but even extreme sportsmen and women are not usually more prone to osteoarthritis.”
True or False: No single diet can cure arthritis
There is no one size fits all to diets, but eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is important no matter what. Martin Lau, Arthritis Action Services Development Manager & Dietitian, offers some key insights.
“No diet can ‘cure’ arthritis, and there are no particular diets or specific types of food that will make arthritis better or worse. Instead, the aim should primarily be to strive for a normal body weight if carrying more than you should, and eating a well-balanced, varied diet. Fruit and vegetables contain high levels of vitamins and antioxidants which are essential for staying in good health, not to mention the high fibre content which is helpful for our gut bacteria.
“Body weight also plays a key part in arthritis, as excess weight places additional pressure on weight-bearing joints. A landmark study found one pound of weight-loss lessens four pounds of pressure on the knees, per step. For those with inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, carrying more body weight could reduce the chance of achieving remission.”
What myths have you heard about arthritis? Let us know on Facebook.