Kimbre Zahn, M.D., a doctor of family medicine with Indiana University Health, clears up some common misconceptions about this painful joint disease.
Myth: Arthritis mostly affects older people.
Fact: While most people who have osteoarthritis—the most common type of arthritis—are elderly, other forms of the disease can affect people of all ages. “Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease in which bones and cartilage break down, which is why we see an increase in prevalence and severity of it as people age,” Dr. Zahn says. The other most commonly occurring types—rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis—are inflammatory conditions that can strike at any time, even during childhood.
Osteoarthritis does occasionally affect younger people. “We sometimes see it in people who are in their forties, though that’s usually because they have a genetic predisposition to osteoarthritis, or they had a previous joint injury or infection that led to it,” Dr. Zahn explains.
Myth: Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.
Fact: Those cracks and pops only sound bad. “All you’re doing is manipulating your joints in a way that results in a cracking noise,” Dr. Zahn says. “You’re not actually harming the joint, so it doesn’t contribute to arthritis.”
Even an extreme knuckle-cracking habit won’t cause arthritis—or any other health issues. “You might be stretching your ligaments, but there’s not really any evidence that cracking causes long-tem complications,” she says.
Myth: Exercise can make arthritis worse.
Fact: It’s more likely to be beneficial than harmful. “I tell my patients that it’s very important for them to exercise in order to maintain the range of motion of their joints, maintain flexibility, and strengthen the muscles around the joints because it will help improve their symptoms,” Dr. Zahn says.
That said, some forms of exercise are more helpful for arthritis patients than others. Dr. Zahn recommends talking to your doctor about a workout plan that’s personalized for the type of arthritis you have: “Someone who has arthritis in the hip or ankle, for example, would be best served by low-impact activities like cycling or swimming than a high-impact exercise like running.”
Myth: Certain foods can aggravate arthritis symptoms.
Fact: Though it’s been claimed that foods such as dairy, citrus fruits, and vegetables like tomatoes can worsen symptoms, there’s no evidence to show that any particular type of food has negative effects on the condition, Dr. Zahn says. Even better news: Some foods may actually improve arthritis symptoms. “The Mediterranean diet—which is rich in fish, vegetables, fruits, and olive oil—could be beneficial because it can ease inflammation,” Dr. Zahn says.
-- By Jessica Brown