6 Myths About Joint Pain and Arthritis

Getting the facts straight about osteoarthritis
man with painful joints in hand

Have you ever predicted a storm from just feeling it in your joints? You’ve probably heard other people say it, too. But is there any truth behind this common statement? 

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There’s a lot of misinformation about osteoarthritis (OA) pain and treatment, but rheumatologist M. Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, helps debunks some common misconceptions:

Myth 1: All joint pain is arthritis.

Fact: Other conditions, such as tendonitis, bursitis or other soft-tissue injuries also cause joint pain. These are common structures that are located around the actual joints that can cause pain and swelling and mimic joint pain.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, especially in patients over 50 years old. Your symptoms may include swelling, pain and you may have difficulty moving your joints. OA most commonly starts in your 50s and worsens over time. However, there are many structures around the joints that can also cause pain in the same areas such as tendonitis, bursitis or soft tissue injuries. 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 hard scientific evidence that dampness or humidity intensifies arthritis symptoms. 

Myth 3: Take it easy with exercise 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. We encourage movement of your joints even if you have arthritis.

“Be careful,” warns Dr. Husni. “Know your limits and start with 20 minutes at a time. Your doctor can guide you and suggest exercise that’s gentler on the joints if your current exercise routine causes pain.”

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Myth 4: Rum-soaked raisins, grapefruit and eggplant or other nightshade vegetables are dietary cures for arthritis.

Fact: Arthritis has no cure, but medications and lifestyle changes can effectively manage symptoms and permit normal activity. However, paying attention to what food you’re putting in your body can help ease your symptoms. 

“Make sure to increase your fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Husni. “Some fruits and veggies have anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe your pain.”

Talk to your rheumatologist or dietitian to help get you started with a healthy diet.

Myth 5: Ice is less helpful than heat for sore joints.

Fact: Both cold and heat are useful for arthritis. You do what feels good for your joint discomfort.

“Applying ice at night can ease joint inflammation arising from daily activities,” says Dr. Husni. “Applying heat in the morning can relax the muscles that move stiff joints.”

If you’re applying ice to your sore joints, apply an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time. If you don’t have any ice packs on hand, grab a bag of frozen vegetables or throw some ice cubes into a plastic baggie. 

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A heating pad does wonders for sore joints, too. If no heating pad is available, microwave a damp washcloth for about 15 seconds and place it on the affected joints to soothe them. Don’t be afraid to soak in a warm bath or hop in a warm shower for some pain relief.

Myth 6: Supplements like glucosamine benefit everyone with arthritis.

Fact: Glucosamine, a dietary supplement that helps keep joints healthy, has been shown to benefit only a subset of people with osteoarthritis, possibly by stimulating the regrowth of worn out cartilage. However, the study results do not support the use of glucosamine for everyone with arthritis.

“We advise patients to take glucosamine with chondroitin for three months to see if it makes any difference,” says Dr. Husni. “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,” says Dr. Husni. “When treating OA, our goal is to help you learn to manage all aspects of pain and to increase your joint mobility and strength.” 

Collaborate with your rheumatologist to find what works best for you and your lifestyle.

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