National Arthritis Week: Busting the Myths

Posted in: Wellbeing Last updated: 16 Oct 2014

Arthritis is the biggest cause of pain and disability in the UK – but despite a lot of people suffering, it’s a widely misunderstood condition; with many of us not fully understanding what the symptoms are or who it affects. As this week is National Arthritis Week, we’ve put together some information to dispel some of the most commonly held misconceptions.

1. ‘Arthritis is just aches and pains as you get older’

We tend to think of arthritis as something only old people get, but actually the peak age for developing it is between 30 and 55[1] and two thirds of people with arthritis are under 65[2] – with 15,000 children suffering in the UK alone[3]. It’s not just general aches and pains, either. The condition is actually just a general name for a group of 100 different musculoskeletal disorders, which can affect people of any age, race or gender.

2. ‘If you’ve got joint, back or neck pain, you should avoid exercise’

People with painful arthritic symptoms might reason that it makes sense for them not to do anything strenuous as it could aggravate their condition, and may perhaps shy away from exercise on these grounds. However, being active can actually go a long way towards helping reduce and prevent pain by improving your range of movement and joint mobility, increasing muscle strength, and reducing stiffness. As long as you do appropriate types and amounts of exercise for the condition, there’s no reason you can’t live an active life even with arthritis.

"As long as you do appropriate types and amounts of exercise for the condition, there’s no reason you can’t live an active life even with arthritis."

3. ‘Cold weather makes my arthritis flare up’

Many suffers claim that their arthritis gets worse when the weather is cold or damp – this is attributed to the fact that atmospheric pressure falls just before it rains. However, scientific trials have failed to prove this – and as people all over the world, in all types of climates, suffer from the condition, there’s no evidence to suggest that weather has any effect on arthritis. Having said this, the sun can be soothing and warm weather may help relieve some symptoms of the condition – in the same way that a hot bath or shower might.

4. ‘Arthritis is caused by a poor diet’

There’s been a lot of speculation on the role diet plays in arthritis. Of course, it’s better for our overall wellbeing to eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet and keep our weight at a healthy level, especially as excess weight can put additional pressure on joints. But despite claims that acidic foods and dairy have an effect, there’s no clear link between diet and arthritis. In fact, many of these foods are actually sources of vitamins needed by the immune system, so avoiding them can be counterproductive, particularly since the calcium found in dairy products plays an essential role in protecting the bones.

5. ‘Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis’

Well-meaning parents the world over have told children to stop cracking their knuckles because it causes arthritis. But research published as far back as 1998 has proved that cracking your knuckles has no effect on whether or not you develop the condition. Dr Unger set out to find out whether or not this was just an old wives tale, by cracking the knuckles on his left hand at least twice a day, whilst keeping his right knuckles un-cracked. When he had failed to develop arthritis in either hand – after 50 years of this experiment – he surmised there was no link between the two [4].

It’s important to be as well informed about arthritis as possible so that you can spot symptoms if they occur. Prompt diagnosis of the condition can make a huge difference to your quality of life, and there could be many people in the UK living with painful joints that aren’t aware of the treatments or self-help measures available to reduce their pain. However, it’s crucial to ensure you consult a doctor before you undertake any change in diet or exercise routine – especially if you’ve been diagnosed previously with an arthritic condition.

1 WebMD, (October 2014) “Rheumatoid Arthritis: Top 8 Myths” [online], Available from www.webmd.com
2 Arthritis Foundation, (October 2014) “Understanding Arthritis” [online], Available from www.arthritis.org
3 NHS Choices, (February 2014) “Arthritis” [online], Available from www.nhs.uk
4 LA Times, (October 2009) “Ig Noble awards go to knuckle-cracker, tequila chemists, other laureates” [online], Available from www.articles.latimes.com

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