Person holding their hands in pain

Top 5 Myths About Arthritis

One in four American adults have arthritis – making it one of the most common chronic conditions and a common cause of chronic pain.

Arthritis refers to more than 100 types of conditions that affect the joints or tissues around the joint. Most types cause joint pain and stiffness – while some types can affect the immune system and internal organs.

The most common type is osteoarthritis, which occurs when the protective cartilage that would normally cushion your joints gradually wears down.

Other common types include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: An autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks the healthy cells that line the joints by mistake. The result is warm, swollen and painful joints.
  • Gout: A form of arthritis that happens when uric acid builds up, crystallizes and deposits in the joints that can be partially managed by modifying diet, exercise and decreasing alcohol intake.

While a combination of factors can cause arthritis, you can reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, smoking cessation and avoiding joint injuries.

Arthritis was attributed to $140 billion in medical costs in 2013, as well as $164 billion in lost earnings due to arthritis.

Here are some common myths about arthritis:

MYTH #1: All joint pain is arthritis.

While there are more than 100 types of arthritis, other conditions cause joint pain including tendonitis, bursitis or other injuries. There are structures around the actual joints that can cause pain and swelling, and cause similar reactions to arthritis joint pain.

MYTH #2: Rain and damp weather worsen arthritis.

There’s no scientific evidence that damp weather increases symptoms of arthritis.

Triggers for arthritis pain flare ups vary depending on the type of arthritis. For example, people with osteoarthritis can experience flare ups if they’re overdoing an activity or joint trauma, experiencing stress, cold weather, repetitive motions, an infection or weight gain.

MYTH #3: If your arthritis pain worsens, avoid exercise.

Moderate exercise can help your arthritis by maintaining your strength and range of motion. Consult your doctor if your arthritis pain is making you question your activity level.

Be sure to rest your joints and gradually return to activity under the guidance of your health care provider.

MYTH #4: Heat is better than ice for sore joints.

Both cold and heat can help ease the pain of arthritis, depending on what feels best for you. For example, using ice packs at night can decrease inflammation from day to day activities, while using a heating pad in the morning can relax muscles around joints.

MYTH #5: Glucosamine supplements help everyone with arthritis.

Only a small portion of people with osteoarthritis have shown to benefit from taking glucosamine as a dietary supplement by stimulating the growth of worn-out cartilage.

Consult your doctor before beginning any new course of treatment for your arthritis – dietary or otherwise.

This content has been reviewed and approved by Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker, an associate medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

This article is the twelfth in a year-long series explaining how to manage chronic conditions that can be costly for families and the health care system. For more information about the series, click here.

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