The truth about arthritis myths

Arthritis is a common disease, with 46 million Americans affected. But there are many misconceptions about it. This may be because researchers don’t yet know what causes some forms of the condition and a constant flow of new research has changed how we treat it. Then there’s the Internet, which, while helpful, can spread information that’s less than reliable.

What’s accurate and what’s not? Here are some of the most popular false beliefs about arthritis that are making the rounds, as well as critical questions you can ask yourself to arrive at the truth and better understand the disease.

MYTH #1: Arthritis is usually associated with only minor aches and pains.

Critical question: I have a diagnosis of arthritis in some of my joints. Are my aches and pains in those joints always minor?

The facts: Arthritis is a serious condition that requires attention and treatment from a medical professional. The disease may start with mild symptoms, but in its advanced stages it can be disabling. You can find out more about the different kinds of arthritis (there are more than 100) and the full range of symptoms on the websites of the Arthritis Foundation and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

MYTH #2: Only old people have arthritis.

Critical question: Do younger people also get arthritis?

The facts: Although arthritis is more prevalent among older people, it’s possible to have the disease at younger ages, including childhood. In fact, three of five people with arthritis are under age 65. Rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common type of arthritis, typically affects people between the ages of 20 and 60. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affects children who are less than 16 years old.

MYTH #3: Damp weather causes arthritis pain.

Critical question: Do people who live in dry climates ever get arthritis?

The facts: People who live in all types of climates get arthritis. There’s also conflicting research about whether people residing in warm, dry climates have fewer pain-related symptoms overall, although some people do report that changes in the weather cause their arthritis to flare up.  Above all, it’s important to remember that living in a certain climate doesn’t cure arthritis because there is no cure.

MYTH #4: Physical activity always makes arthritis pain worse.

Critical questions: Do I experience more pain every time I engage in physical activity? What does my health care provider say about physical activity?

The facts: Movement often is good for your joints, but not all kinds of exercise are good for all kinds of arthritis.  People with rheumatoid arthritis are generally discouraged from excess weight-bearing exercise. Research shows that exercise can reduce pain and improve range of motion, mood, and overall quality of life. If your health care provider has recommended that you lose weight to reduce stress on your weight-bearing joints, such as hips and knees, physical activity can help with that, too. Ask your provider what types of physical activity are best for you.  And remember, physical activity doesn’t necessarily require a gym membership:  taking a 10-minute walk counts toward your joint health!

MYTH #5: There’s nothing you can do to reduce arthritis pain.

Critical question: What do I currently do to reduce my arthritis pain? Do these things work?

The facts: As you will see throughout the painACTION website, there are many different ways to reduce arthritis pain and other symptoms. Treatment plans often include medications, physical activity, relaxation/meditation, and a positive attitude. Since each person is unique, your health care provider can recommend the most effective treatments based on your symptoms and medical history.

MYTH #6: You need to rest a lot when you have arthritis.

Critical questions: Have my sleep/rest patterns changed? Do I maintain an active lifestyle? Do I know other people with arthritis who have active lives?

The facts: Inactivity may cause people with arthritis to become out of shape, weaker, and less flexible, and to experience more pain. It’s important to remain as active as possible within the limits that are recommended for you. Balancing activity with periods of rest may be important for some types of arthritis, especially during flare-ups of inflammation. Ask your health care provider if your kind of arthritis requires you to limit your activity and rest often.

With so much false information out there, it’s important to learn how to sift through it. After all, your health is at stake. In general, if you hear something about arthritis that sounds black and white (“only old people,” “nothing you can do,” “always makes it worse”), consider whether there’s any evidence to disprove it. When in doubt, ask your health care professional about the truth of the statement in question.