This edition of Medical Myths will mark Arthritis Awareness Month and focus on some of the longest-lasting half-truths and falsehoods associated with arthritis. We cover prevention, nutritional supplements, the effects of weather and much more.
Arthritis is a condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints. There are two main types: osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
OA – the most common form of arthritis – occurs when the cartilage that sits between the bones of a joint wears away. People sometimes refer to the disease as “wear and tear” arthritis.
RA occurs when the immune system accidentally attacks healthy body tissue. It damages the joints, but can also affect muscles, connective tissue, tendons, and fibrous tissue.
Arthritis is not an uncommon condition. OA is a leading cause of disability in older adults, affecting an estimated 7% of the world’s population, equivalent to more than 500 million people.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), RA is less common but still affects an estimated 0.3–1% of the world’s population. It also tends to appear earlier in life than OA – usually between the ages of 20 and 40 – and can have a profound effect on daily activities. The WHO states: “Within 10 years of starting, at least 50% of patients in developed countries cannot work full-time.”
Aside from OA and RA, there are several other forms of arthritis including:
- Juvenile arthritis: This umbrella term describes a group of diseases that affect children.
- Spondyloarthropathies: These autoimmune diseases can attack the joints.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus: This autoimmune disease can affect many tissues in the body, including the joints.
- Gout: In this condition, urate crystals accumulate in the joints.
- Infectious and reactive arthritis: This type refers to joint inflammation caused by infection.
- Psoriatic arthritis: This condition affects nearly a third of people with psoriasis.
Since May is arthritis awareness month, this edition of Medical Myths will cover some of the misconceptions associated with arthritis.
Arthritis is more common in older adults, but it can affect people of all ages. A study using data from the National Health Interview Survey in the United States found that doctors diagnosed arthritis in 49.7% of adults aged 65 and over.
However, the researchers also reported that 30.3% of adults ages 45 to 64 and 7.3% of people ages 18 to 44 had a diagnosis of arthritis. As mentioned above, RA tends to occur in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
That is not true. Not all joint pain is arthritis, and not all joint discomfort is a sign that arthritis will develop later. There are many possible causes of pain in and around the joints, including tendonitis, bursitis, and injuries.
Exercise is generally not an activity that people with arthritis need to avoid, although they should speak to their doctor before beginning any treatment plan. Exercise can help maintain freedom of movement and strength in your joints.
According to the American College of Rheumatology:
“Exercise and arthritis can and should co-exist. People with arthritis who exercise regularly have less pain, more energy, better sleep, and better everyday function. “
The organization also suggests that “exercise should be one of the mainstays of treating OA of the hip and knee”.
Nightshade vegetables, which include tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers, are implicated in a long-standing arthritis myth. Some people claim that these foods increase arthritis symptoms.
To investigate this, Medical News Today spoke to Dr. Brian Schulz, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at the Cedars Sinai Kerlan Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, CA. He said:
“There’s no evidence that nightshade vegetables cause inflammation or worsen arthritis symptoms. However, the Arthritis Foundation recommends certain anti-inflammatory foods, including fatty fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, colorful fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, nuts and seeds, and beans. “
That is not true. In fact, both ice and heat can soothe sore joints. According to the National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust of Guy and St. Thomas in the UK:
“When used properly, heat can help relieve pain and stiffness in joints and muscles. Applying it coldly can help reduce joint inflammation and swelling. “
The Trust states that if a joint is stiff and in pain, people should use heat before exercising. Cold can also relieve pain, and it can also be useful if the joint is inflamed, especially if there is swelling after the activity.
This is a partial myth. It is not possible to prevent every case of arthritis because of some risk factors, such as: B. the increasing age, are not changeable. However, people can eliminate or minimize certain risk factors to prevent arthritis from occurring or to slow its progression.
For example, people who are excessively weight have an increased risk of developing knee OA. Maintaining a moderate weight can lower your risk of arthritis.
Tobacco smoking is also linked to an increased risk of developing RA. Smoking cessation reduces the risk and brings a number of other health benefits.
Since arthritis can develop after injury, protecting your joints while exercising or doing other physical activities can help reduce the risk of arthritis later in life.
Fortunately, this is a myth. Although there is often no cure for the disease, its course varies depending on the type of arthritis. Medications are available that can help relieve symptoms of many types of arthritis and slow the progression of the disease.
People can also take certain lifestyle measures to slow the progression of some types of arthritis, such as: For example, maintain a moderate weight, quit smoking, eat healthily, and get enough sleep.
In general, there is no cure for arthritis. However, glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can help relieve symptoms in some people with OA.
Both glucosamine and chondroitin are structural components of cartilage. They are widely available in the form of supplements.
MNT spoke to Dr. Orrin Troum, a rheumatologist at the Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, California, who explained why the myth might have originated:
“Despite the publication of Dr. Jason Theodosakis’ book – The Arthritis Cure – which suggested that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate could cure arthritis, these claims remain unfounded.”
The researchers conducted a number of studies in which both compounds were isolated and examined in combination. However, the results are inconclusive. For example, a large study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2008 looked at whether glucosamine and chondroitin were effective for OA pain in the knee.
The researchers examined the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin separately and together, and compared them to a placebo. They also tested celecoxib – a prescription drug that doctors use to treat OA pain.
Although celecoxib reduced pain compared to placebo, the authors concluded that “there were no significant differences between the other treatments tested and placebo”.
However, they found that for a “subset of participants with moderate to severe pain, glucosamine combined with chondroitin sulfate provided statistically significant pain relief compared to placebo”. They indicated that this subgroup was too small to draw significant conclusions.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Inclusive Health:
“Research suggests that chondroitin is not helpful for pain due to OA of the knee or hip. […] It’s unclear whether glucosamine will help with OA knee pain or whether either of the two supplements will relieve OA pain in other joints. “
Dr. Troum concluded, “There appears to be a pain modulating effect from glucosamine or chondroitin, or when used in combination in some patients with OA pain. Because these supplements do not appear to have any significant side effects, a study of them may be suitable for patients seeking pain relief without using conventional prescription drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or acetaminophen. “
Dr. Schulz agreed, telling MNT that while some studies show benefits, others don’t. “These dietary supplements are relatively safe to take. So I usually recommend that patients try them to see if they work for them. “
There is an ongoing claim that rain and damp weather make arthritis symptoms worse. We’ll end on this topic because while it sounds like it should be a myth, there seems to be some evidence that the weather can affect arthritis symptoms. It’s inconclusive, however, and the weather doesn’t seem to affect everyone with arthritis.
MNT spoke to Dr. John Tiberi, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in joint replacement and preservation at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute. He told us:
“There is no concrete, conclusive scientific explanation for the effect of weather on symptoms of arthritis. There are several theories, however, and anecdotally, patients often tell doctors that their symptoms actually vary with changes in the weather. “
Dr. Troum repeated this message and said, “Many of my patients can tell when it will rain or when the weather will change. Sometimes I find it more reliable than the weather report! Patients with inflammatory arthritis or swollen joints can often feel the change in air pressure, typically the day before the weather change. “
The exact relationship between weather and arthritis symptoms is unknown, but appears to exist to some extent. In addition to detecting barometric changes, Dr. Schulz theorized that “low temperatures affect the viscosity of the synovial fluid, which also makes the joint feel stiffer”.
As this last “myth” shows, despite the spread of arthritis, we still have a lot to learn about it. However, we do know that by maintaining a lifestyle that includes exercise and a nutritious, balanced diet, we can reduce the risk of some types of arthritis and slow their progression.
If scientists study these conditions further, better treatments are sure to emerge. If the stars align, maybe one day we will understand why the weather affects arthritis symptoms as well.