6 Myths About Joint Pain and Arthritis

Learn the facts about arthritis

older woman with shoulder pain

Osteoarthritis (OA), one of the most common forms of arthritis, results from wear and tear of the cartilage that cushions the joints, typically after an injury or with advancing age. More than 27 million Americans have OA.

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Also called degenerative joint disease, OA usually develops over years, and symptoms include pain, stiffness, tenderness, a limited range of motion and may cause a grating sensation during movement. The pain usually is worse after activity and ranges in severity from person to person.

Risks of developing arthritis

Scientists aren’t sure about the causes of most types of arthritis or why some people develop it and others do not. Researchers are studying three major factors to determine what role they play in the development of certain types of arthritis:

  • Genetics
  • Lifetime events
  • Obesity

Risk factors for arthritis include:

  • Age – The risk of developing arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, increases with age.
  • Gender – In general, arthritis occurs more frequently in women than in men.
  • Weight – Being overweight puts extra stress on weight-bearing joints, increasing wear and tear, and the risk of arthritis.
  • Work factors – Some jobs that require repetitive movements or heavy lifting can cause stress in the joints and/or cause an injury, which can lead to arthritis.

Myths and facts

M. Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, Vice Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Treatment Center at the Orthopaedic & Rheumatologic Institute, says there’s a lot of misinformation about OA pain and treatment. Here are some common misconceptions:

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Myth 1 – All joint pain is arthritis.
Fact: Other conditions, such as tendonitis, bursitis or other soft-tissue injuries also cause joint pain. Evaluation by a rheumatologist will lead to the right diagnosis and treatment.

Myth 2 – Rain and damp weather worsen arthritis.
Fact: Although many believe that a twinge in the knee or knuckle can predict rain, there’s no scientific evidence that dampness or humidity intensifies arthritis symptoms.

Myth 3 – Take it easy if your arthritis acts up.
Fact: Regular, sensible exercise actually may help your arthritis, although arthritic joints sometimes need a short period of rest followed by a gradual return to activity. It’s important to maintain your strength and range of motion in your joints. Your doctor can guide you and suggest exercise that’s gentler on the joints.

Myth 4 – Rum-soaked raisins, grapefruit, and eggplant or other “nightshade” vegetables are dietary cures for arthritis.
Fact: A change in diet has no effect on arthritis. Arthritis has no cure, but medications and lifestyle changes can effectively manage symptoms and permit normal activity.

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Myth 5 – Ice is less helpful than heat for sore joints.
Fact: Both cold and heat are useful for arthritis. Applying ice at night can ease joint inflammation arising from daily activities. Applying heat in the morning can relax the muscles that move stiff joints.

Myth 6 – Supplements like glucosamine benefit everyone with arthritis.
Fact: Glucosamine has been shown to benefit only a subset of people with osteoarthritis, possibly by stimulating the regrowth of worn-out cartilage. We advise people to take glucosamine with chondroitin for three months to see if it makes any difference. If so, continue using it; if not, don’t waste your money and look for other options.

Individualized treatment

A diagnosis of arthritis doesn’t mean the end of an active lifestyle. In treating OA, the goal is to help patients learn to manage all aspects of pain and to increase their joint mobility and strength. Dr. Husni recommends that patients with OA collaborate with their physicians to find what works best for them.