As a physician, I've diagnosed and treated many patients with arthritis. It's a complex medical condition that goes beyond simple joint pain and can have an impact in many areas of a patient's life. But even though arthritis affects more than 50 million people, there are still some misconceptions about it worth clarifying so people have a better knowledge of the disease. Here's what everyone should know.
Myth #1: There's only one type of arthritis.
Arthritis is actually an umbrella term for many types of joint diseases that cause pain, swelling and limited mobility--in fact, there are more than 100 arthritis-related conditions. Many people have heard about rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, but fibromyalgia, gout, bursitis and spinal stenosis are just a few diseases that also are considered part of the arthritis family. Just as there are many types of arthritis, there are also many causes as well--it can be triggered by degenerative damage, joint inflammation or another medical issue. That's why it's important to see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis of joint pain.
Myth #2: I'm too young to get arthritis.
Arthritis can be more common among adults, especially as joints get older, but that doesn't mean younger people aren't affected. About 300,000 children and teens have some form of arthritis.
Myth #3: Knuckle cracking causes arthritis.
This old wives tale is, in fact, fiction. Knuckle cracking doesn't really have anything to do with friction between joints, which is the common misunderstanding--instead, the popping sound comes from gas bubbles in the fluid that cushions the finger bones.
Myth #4: Certain fruits and veggies exacerbate joint pain.
People with arthritis may have been warned about citrus fruit and nightshade vegetables such as eggplants and tomatoes as possible causes of joint inflammation. But the vitamin C in oranges, grapefruits and other citrus fruits may ease pain and its antioxidant properties may help protect joint cartilage. And there simply haven't been enough studies to prove nightshade vegetables are bad. A well-balanced diet of whole foods helps arthritis sufferers keep their weight in check--extra pounds can mean extra stress on the joints.
Myth #5. I can't exercise with arthritis.
Working out may seem counterintuitive when it comes to helping arthritic joints, but I've found that exercise is beneficial. In addition to keeping off weight, physical activity can help relieve pain and inflammation in the body while lubricating the joints to improve movement. A doctor should approve any workout program; depending on the patient's condition, it can include low-impact cardio such as walking or swimming, strength training, and flexibility exercises such as yoga.
Myth #6: Arthritis isn't a major health problem in America.
If not treated properly, arthritis can have huge repercussions. In the United States, it's the leading cause of disability, which results in sick days at work, loss of jobs or career changes due to inability to perform physical tasks, and millions of dollars spent on doctor appointments and hospital visits.
When it comes to arthritis, knowledge is power--the power to reduce the risk of disease or the power to live a healthy, well-balanced life in which arthritis is manageable, not miserable. To learn more about arthritis, visit arthritis.org or ask your doctor.
Victoria Leigh, DO, is a board-certified internal medicine physician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.