A disease as common as arthritis is bound to spawn some myths. Here, a look at the reality behind some commonly held beliefs:
Myth 1: Arthritis happens only to old people.
The truth: Some forms of arthritis do mainly affect elderly people, including the most common, osteoarthritis. Yet many types can affect younger people, and joint injuries at any age can lead to osteoarthritis. Currently more than half of the population with arthritis is under 65. Juvenile arthritis can begin in children as young as infants and toddlers and affects an estimated 294,000 Americans under age 18. Other forms of arthritis, mainly autoimmune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, Reiter’s syndrome and ankylosing spondylitis, usually strike in middle or early adulthood.
Myth 2: It’s an inevitable part of aging.
The truth: Thirty percent of people older than age 70 have no x-ray evidence of osteoarthritis, the common “wear and tear” form of the disease, according to the American College of Rheumatology. For the 70 percent of people who do show the joint deterioration of osteoarthritis in x-rays, half of them never develop symptoms.
Myth 3: Weather affects symptoms.
The truth: Many people with arthritis believe that cold and dampness can set off joint symptoms. Indeed, according to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly half of arthritis patients think they can predict the weather! Yet the studies have been inconclusive. But don’t cancel your Florida vacation plans yet; milder weather may encourage people with arthritis to be more active, and that has been shown to help.
Myth 4: Exercise makes arthritis worse.
The truth: Regular moderate exercise can help prevent and treat arthritis. Exercise promotes function and mobility, controls weight and strengthens the muscles that support the joints. Though you may want to avoid high-impact exercises (like running) if your knees bother you, low-impact exercises such as walking, tai chi or aquatics are all beneficial. Talk to your physician about the best exercise regimen for you. Pool (aqua) therapy has been shown to cause improvement in mobility in arthritic joints.
Myth 5: “Nightshade” vegetables should be avoided.
The truth: Some people claim that vegetables in the “nightshade” family (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers) cause arthritis to flare up. However, none about these associations have been proven. If a certain food seems to negatively affect you or your family, try to avoid it and see if that helps. Otherwise, follow the Arthritis Foundation recommendations for a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, including tomatoes.
Myth 6: Diet can’t help or hurt arthritis.
The truth: The Arthritis Foundation recommends a diet low in calories and saturated fats, rich in “good” fats found in fish and olive oil and nuts, and full of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Some research suggests that carotenoids (found in orange and yellow vegetables and fruits) and cruciferous vegetables (the broccoli and cabbage family) may be particularly effective at protecting joints. Gout, which causes painful arthritis attacks, has multiple dietary triggers, including many types of meat and seafood and alcohol.
Myth 7: Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.
The truth: Despite this urban legend, several studies over the years have found no association between knuckle cracking and arthritis. Persistent knuckle cracking may eventually affect your grip strength or, at the very least, annoy your coworkers.