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5 Facts and Fictions About Osteoarthritis

Think arthritis is a natural part of aging, and something you can't do anything about? Think again.

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 of course, 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 cropped up over the years. But you don't have to rely on hearsay. Get the facts about the most common arthritis fictions, and learn what you can do to keep your joints happy and healthy for years to come.

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

Myth. The idea that getting older means living with joint pain is probably one of the most persistent arthritis myths out there.

Yet 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 46 million people living with arthritis in the United States are under 65, says Patience H. White, MD, MA, 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 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 the other OA risk factors.

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

Myth. For some, arthritis is in the genes; if one of your parents has osteoarthritis -- particularly in the hands -- chances are good you will, too.

For the rest of us, the most common causes of OA can point us toward a path of prevention:

  • 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 -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 key 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.
  • Other types of arthritis and conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, can also increase your chances of developing OA.

 

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

Myth. The idea that you can't exercise or be active once you've got OA is another arthritis myth that's overstayed its welcome.

You should be physically active, when you have arthritis, White tells WebMD. 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.

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 and pain.

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

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

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

The economic burden is also large, with estimated costs of over $127 billion dollars a year -- $47 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," says White. "We should make it unacceptable…it doesn't need to be."

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