Will Moving Somewhere Warm Cure Your Arthritis?

5 surprising facts about this common condition
Will Moving to Phoenix Cure Your Arthritis?

By: Scott Burg, DO

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People often have misconceptions about how and why arthritis develops. Here are some surprising facts I like to share with my patients.

1. Arthritis typically won’t get better in a warm climate.

Arthritis patients often say something like, “Doc, I felt great on vacation in Phoenix because it was so warm and dry. I’ve decided to move there.”

To which I respond, “Would you like the name of a rheumatologist in Phoenix?”

They’ll tell me no. But after about two months they’ll call me, asking, “Do you still have that rheumatologist’s name? My arthritis is killing me.”

It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to understand why the Phoenix phonebook is packed with rheumatologists. Weather has some impact on arthritis, but it’s not the be-all, end-all.

Getting relief from arthritis is more about breaking your routine and getting away from it all. Can you feel better on a cruise somewhere cold, like Alaska, with arthritis? Absolutely. In fact, some patients tell me, “Doc, I feel worse in the summer than I do in the winter.”

2. Arthritis doesn’t always come on gradually.

Everyone thinks arthritis is a gradual process. But that’s true only 50 percent of the time. The other 50 percent of the time, it’s sudden. You can wake up one morning and feel like a truck hit you.

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We commonly see gradual and sudden episodes of arthritis in both major types of arthritis: mechanical (like osteoarthritis) and inflammatory (like rheumatoid arthritis, or RA).

3. Arthritis can go away, but it’s rare.

With inflammatory arthritis like RA or lupus, a small percentage of patients improve spontaneously for periods of time. And some patients may have one episode that never recurs.

Inflammatory arthritis can also be related to a viral syndrome, and viral conditions resolve over time. For example, parvovirus (“slap face disease” or “fifth disease” in kids) can be very painful for adults’ joints. Also, people with certain types of hepatitis can develop joint pain that usually improves after a while.

However, osteoarthritis is never going to go away. Your joint won’t go from being arthritic to being normal. However, the symptoms may wax and wane.

4. Arthritis is not a disease for old people.

People often believe they’re too young to have arthritis when in fact they’re not. For most types of inflammatory arthritis, we see patients of all ages, across the board.

Osteoarthritis may develop in young athletes because of the constant loading and impact on their joints. And it can develop in older adults as well.

Will having a parent or relative with arthritis increase your risk of getting arthritis? Only rarely.

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5. Your quality of life can be good even if your arthritis is severe.

Back in the 1980s, we didn’t have many treatment options to offer arthritis patients. But we could admit them to the hospital, and give them three square meals a day and physical therapy. Taking them out of their environment and away from daily demands like fixing dinner would make them feel better.

But over the last 25 years, we’ve gone from basic hand-holding to making significant strides in medical and surgical care for all types of arthritis. We have many weapons in our arsenal that significantly improve patients’ quality of life.

Our goal — and the reality — is that we can now put most patients into some kind of remission. This is true even for RA, the worst form of inflammatory arthritis, which had been one of the toughest to treat.

In mechanical arthritis like osteoarthritis, patients enjoy a significantly improved quality of life as well. We have a variety of medications, along with physical therapy, low- to no-impact aerobic exercise (which boosts endorphins to relieve pain), joint injections, and sometimes surgery.

If you think you have arthritis, don’t be afraid to learn more about the condition. Talk to your primary care physician. Find out what is — and is not — likely to help you.

Like moving to Phoenix.

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