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Arthritis Myths Debunked

By Steve Hefferon, CMT, PTA

When it comes to arthritis we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do. There is a lot of misinformation floating in the world about what arthritis is, what it does and who it affects. Without a proper understanding of arthritis we can’t begin to pursue a proper diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan that works. The first step towards that is distinguishing the facts about arthritis from the myths.

To help, I have come up with some of the most common arthritis myths that you likely believe to be true. As you read the actual facts, consider how your diagnosis or treatment may have been impacted by the myths.

Myth #1 “Only old people have arthritis”

This is one of those arthritis myths you can understand because some types of arthritis, like osteoarthritis, form due to the wear and tear of living. You can develop ‘wear & tear’ arthritis at any time, but if it were simply a byproduct of aging all of us would be suffering from it at some point.

Some things are part of aging; grey hair and retirement. Arthritis is not one of those things. But if you take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, you can make sure the effects of your arthritis don’t become unmanageable.

While you can’t cure arthritis, you can reduce symptoms, stop their progression and in some cases reverse it altogether.

Myth #2 “All arthritis is the same”

This is one of my favorite myths because it is such an over-simplification of the phenomena known as arthritis. This simplified myth is part of the reason so many people suffer without treatment; they don’t understand that there are more than 100 different types of arthritis with their own separate causes. With that understanding will come a proper diagnosis and a treatment that can alleviate symptoms.

Some of the most common types of arthritis, for example, aren’t even the same. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative problem due to wear and tear on joints and bones, while rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis are autoimmune diseases. By making a trip to your physician for a proper diagnosis you will get the treatment that works. You may think you have “run of the mill” arthritis (osteoarthritis) when you actually have the disease.

When you know that all arthritis isn’t the same, you will be more diligent about figuring out the exact cause of your joint aches and pains.

Myth #3 “Exercise makes arthritis worse”

This arthritis myth goes back to the early days of arthritis treatment when patients were advised against exercise. In theory it makes sense: you have pain and inflammation because of the wear and tear on your joints, so why would you add more wear and tear by exercising? But in reality exercise can help reduce pain and inflammation common to many types of arthritis.

It’s true that there are some forms of arthritis where certain exercises can exacerbate your symptoms; you would do better to exercise than to avoid it.

The National Institutes of Health recommend low impact exercises like swimming and walking to reduce pain and strengthen the muscles around your joints.

Myth #4 “Arthritis can put you in a wheelchair”

This is one of those myths I like to call “worse case facts” because they are based solely on the worst thing we’ve ever witnessed as a result of arthritis.

For example your aunt Edith received an incorrect arthritis diagnosis, which means she wasn’t given the right treatment for what ails her. As a result of these factors combined with a poor diet, Aunt Edith ended up in a wheelchair and ultimately in an assisted living facility. So you believe that an arthritis diagnosis is equivalent to permanent disability.

The good news is that we know so much more about the many forms of arthritis that exist so you can receive a more accurate diagnosis and start a proper treatment plan. When that treatment is combined with a healthy diet and complementary treatments like massage therapy and acupuncture, you can relieve or reverse your symptoms.

Know your body and identify the symptoms of arthritis early on so you can avoid making this myth, a reality!

Myth #5 “Warm weather is better for arthritis”

This is a myth that has no scientific evidence to back it up, yet what we know about the human body makes it true...sort of. We often believe that cold weather can make arthritis symptoms worse because we know that colder weather constricts muscles and joints, which would be painful for already aching muscles and joints. Warm weather improves blood flow in the muscles, which relieves compression and reduces stiffness and muscle pain.

But if you suffer from an autoimmune form of arthritis you will want to take into account other symptoms that may be improved or worsened by shifting climates.

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