Arthritis is a common joint ailment affecting about 21 million Americans. Nevertheless, misconceptions about this painful disease abound.
Here are the top 5 things that maybe you thought you knew about arthritis, but didn’t.
- Arthritis is arthritis is arthritis. Many people hear the word “arthritis” and get an immediate impression of what that means. They might be thinking about osteoarthritis (OA), the type that comes with wear and tear and the normal aging process. In reality there are over 100 types of arthritis, including some other common varieties of the painful culprit: rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), gout, and fibromyalgia (yes, fibromyalgia is a form of arthritis).
- I can take supplements to rebuild my joints. This would be such a wonderful thing if it were true. However, like eroded tooth enamel, once the damage is done there isn’t a way to reverse it. Glucosamine, a compound found in joints and surrounding cartilage, may temporarily help with pain and inflammation, but it doesn’t physically repair joints.
- I can’t exercise because I have arthritis. No. No. And No. This is probably the most frustrating myth for doctors because a sedentary lifestyle (and the accompanying weight gain) are what exacerbate arthritis, not exercise. Of course, knee-pounding sports are not recommended (and would probably hurt too much anyway), but low impact, range-of-motion-based activities such as walking, yoga, tai chi and water aerobics can keep you healthy and reduce further joint deterioration.
- Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis. Despite what your mom may have told you, cracking your knuckles doesn’t cause arthritis just like making faces at your little sister won’t make your face freeze that way. One California teen, Donald Unger, began cracking the knuckles on his left hand, but not his right to test the theory. Sixty years later, he still had no signs of arthritis. Actual scientific studies have backed up his results as well. On the flip side, cracking your knuckles can lead to soft tissue damage and lowered grip strength, so it’s not a habit you should aim to pick up.
- I just have to live with the pain. No, you don’t. There are things you can do and treatments your doctor can prescribe to help you live as pain-free as possible with arthritis. Simply losing weight can put less stress on your joints, reducing pain. Exercise (see #3), anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone shots and pain-reducing medications can also help you enjoy a normal life, even with arthritis.