5 Facts and Fictions About Osteoarthritis

From the WebMD Archives

The earth is flat, eggs are bad for you, and arthritis is a natural part of aging. Each of these once long-held beliefs are myths, but repeat one often enough and just about any myth can start to sound like fact.

With more than 100 types of arthritis, it's easy to see how a little misinformation has cropped up over the years. But you don't have to rely on hearsay. Get the facts here about the most common arthritis fictions.

Arthritis Myth or Fact: Arthritis is just part of aging.

Myth. Getting older means living with joint pain.

Fact. Arthritis isn't a natural part of aging, and older people aren't the only ones who get arthritis. As a matter of fact, more than half of the 50 million people living with arthritis in the United States are under age 65, says Patience H. White, MD, vice president of public health for the Arthritis Foundation. Even children get arthritis.

It is true that your chances of getting osteoarthritis -- the most common form of arthritis, affecting about 27 million Americans -- increase with age. One reason is simply that older joints have had more wear and tear. Although there's nothing we can do about growing older, there is a lot we can do about other OA risk factors.

Arthritis Myth or Fact: You can't prevent osteoarthritis.

Myth. Osteoarthritis is genetic: If one of your parents has it, chances are good that you will, too.

Fact. Aside from rheumatoid arthritis, which raises the risk for developing OA, you can minimize the risk of of developing OA with lifestyle changes:

  • Obesity plays a huge role in raising your risks of developing osteoarthritis, especially for osteoarthritis of the knee. That's because the heavier you are, the more stress you put on your joints. For each 1-pound increase in weight, the force across the knee joint increases by 2 to 3 pounds. To lower your chances of getting OA, lose weight if you're overweight, and then maintain a healthy weight when you get there.
  • Overuse or injury also raises your risk of developing OA. According to the Arthritis Foundation, athletes and people whose jobs require repetitive motion have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis because of joint stress and injury. High-intensity sports such as running, which directly impact joints, seem to increase the risk of osteoarthritis. The keys to prevention? Avoid injuries, and modify movements so your joints are stressed less. For high-impact sports, gradually increase your training schedule and avoid high-impact activities if your joints are injured.
  • Muscle weakness is another risk factor for OA. In particular, some studies show that weakness of the muscles surrounding the knee (quadriceps) can raise your risks of injury and knee osteoarthritis.

Continued

Arthritis Myth or Fact: You can't be physically active when you have arthritis.

Myth. You can't or shouldn't exercise once you've got OA.

Fact. You should be physically active when you have arthritis, White says. Not only will appropriate activities decrease your OA pain, they can improve range of motion, function, and reduce disability. A bonus: Regular activity helps you achieve, and then maintain, a healthy weight.

The key to getting all of these exercise benefits -- and protecting your joints -- is to keep activities low-impact. So skip the joint-pounding pain of a marathon, and opt instead for biking, walking, and aquatic activities, White suggests. And remember to first consult your doctor before starting any arthritis fitness program.

Arthritis Myth or Fact: Losing as little as 5 pounds can make a big difference to OA symptoms.

Myth. Unless you lose a lot of weight, your OA symptoms won't improve.

Fact. For every pound you gain, you add 2-3 pounds of pressure across your knees, White says. So even a small weight loss can produce drastic changes, reducing osteoarthritis symptoms andpain.

"If people just lost a little weight -- just 5 or 10 pounds -- it'll make a big difference to the progression of the disease," White says.

Arthritis Myth or Fact: Arthritis: It's not a serious health problem.

Myth. Arthritis is not a serious health problem.

Fact. Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States, affecting about one in every five U.S. adults -- and their families.

The economic burden is also large, with estimated costs of more than $188 billion a year -- $108 billion in lost wages, and $80 billion in medical care.

Fortunately, you can make sure you're not an arthritis statistic. You can start today by eating right, exercising, and taking care of your body.

"People sort of accept arthritis," White says. "We should make it unacceptable. ... It doesn't need to be."

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 12, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Patience H. White, MD, MA, vice president for public health policy and advocacy, Arthritis Foundation; professor, medicine and pediatrics, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Osteoarthritis - Risk Factors."

Arthritis Foundation: "Osteoarthritis Basics: What Causes OA?" "Understanding Arthritis: Eradicating Myths," "Arthritis Prevalence Fact Sheet."

CDC: "Arthritis-Related Statistics," "Arthritis FAQ."

Medscape. 

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