Osteoarthritis Myths Busted
“Only old people get arthritis.”
“Damp weather makes arthritis worse.”
“Cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis.”
Sound familiar? While you may have taken one or more of these statements as fact, they are actually MYTHS. We spoke to Dr Wendy Holden, Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor and Consultant Rheumatologist, to find out more.
Only old people get arthritis
Did you know that 8.75 million people aged 4 and over have sought treatment for osteoarthritis? Arthritis is associated with the elderly, but the truth is a little more complex than that.
“Some types of arthritis can affect much younger people, including children and even babies,” says Wendy, “this type of arthritis is called juvenile inflammatory arthritis and is a problem to do with the immune system attacking the joints. Juvenile inflammatory arthritis can cause swelling, pain and stiffness.”
Injury to the joint can also lead to osteoarthritis in adults of any age. A classic example of this is someone like former Derby football captain Sean Barker who previously spoke to us at length about his injury and subsequent arthritis.
Once you’re diagnosed with arthritis, there isn’t much you can do about it
Getting arthritis doesn’t mean your life has to stop. While there is no cure for arthritis, there are ways to manage the condition and reduce painful symptoms so you can continue to lead a full and active life.
“There is no absolute cure for arthritis, however there are many ways to manage your condition,” says Wendy, “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. Arthritis affects people differently, so each individual can choose the techniques that help them live a fuller, more active, life.”
Wendy’s tips for how to manage arthritis symptoms.
- 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.
- Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines are often prescribed to help with the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis. These can be taken when needed or before activity that you know can trigger the pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen can be very effective for helping pain and stiffness, but they should be used in the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time.
- Physical therapies such as physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic treatment can all help. Therapists can give you exercises to help you manage your pain and improve your function.
- Joint injections of a corticosteroid and local anaesthetic can sometimes help individual joints that are especially painful. The benefits can last for many months or even longer
Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis
Did your parents tell you that cracking your knuckles would give you arthritis? They probably just didn’t like the sound.
“Cracking the knuckles doesn’t cause arthritis, but it can be irritating!” says Wendy, “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.”
Having joint pain automatically means you have arthritis
Painful joints doesn’t necessarily mean you have arthritis.
“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,” says Wendy, “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 for the pain. This could be due to changes in the nervous system and brain whenever pain is experienced or felt,” she continues.
Damp conditions trigger arthritis pain
“Many people with arthritis or joint damage claim that they can tell when the weather is going to change or when it’s going to rain,” says Wendy, “some people claim that a drop in atmospheric pressure might cause tissues to expand and cause arthritic joints to hurt more.”
“However, in 2017 a study of over 1.5 million Americans over 11 million medical consultations in people with arthritis, found no connection between rainy days and the number of consultations, firmly disproving the myth about rainy weather triggering joint pain,” she continues.
You shouldn’t exercise if you have arthritis
Exercising is probably the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, but it can actually help improve your symptoms in the long run.
“People with arthritis should continue exercising as much as possible. Regular exercise is essential as it helps to strengthen the muscles that protect and support the joints. Keeping active has even been proven to help reduce the pain of arthritis and improve function,” says Wendy.
“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,” she continues.”
While it’s perfectly natural and often a good thing to ‘feel the burn’ when you’re working out, pain doesn’t mean gain and can be quite dangerous. You should take a break if you feel a sharp pain, feel dizzy or nauseous, or if you think you have injured yourself in any way.
Arthritis is inevitable as you get older
While arthritis is a common cause of disability in Ireland, it is not an inevitable part of the ageing process.
“There is no one ‘cause’ for arthritis, as there are so many different types that can affect a person,” says Wendy, “there are a number of important factors which can help reduce the risk of arthritis.”
“Osteoarthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the knees and hips, is more common and causes more pain in people who are overweight. Drinking excessive alcohol can trigger an attack of gout, another form of arthritis. Smoking is more common in people who develop rheumatoid arthritis,” she continues.