The word "arthritis" makes many people think of painful, stiff joints. In reality, there are many kinds of arthritis, each with different symptoms and treatments. Dr. Joel Smith, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Sharp HealthCare, clears up four common misconceptions about arthritis.
1. Arthritis is a disease that only older people get.
Nearly 40 million Americans — or 1 in every 7 people — has arthritis. Arthritis is not age- or gender-specific. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions; some are more commonly found in certain groups. For example, osteoarthritis (OA) most often occurs in older adults. OA results when the cartilage that pads bones in a joint begins to wear away. When the cartilage has worn away, the bones rub against each other. OA most often happens in the hands, neck, lower back, hips and knees.
2. Arthritis is made worse by weather.
There may be something to this one. There are different theories about why weather might affect arthritis — the most common has to do with barometric pressure. For example, if a patient has an inflamed joint that is subject to swelling, decreased barometric pressure would allow the inflamed tissue to swell more because there is less atmospheric pressure holding the tissue back. If there are nerves in that tissue, those nerves would be stimulated by the swelling and translate into pain. Cold weather might also influence arthritic symptoms. There's not much research that shows cold weather directly causes or affects arthritis, but some studies have shown that the lower the barometric pressure, the more aches and pains felt by people with arthritis. Additionally, we know cold weather tends to create conditions like a less active lifestyle that can lead to arthritic symptoms.
3. Cracking joints puts you at higher risk for developing arthritis.
Multiple studies that compared rates of hand arthritis among habitual knuckle-crackers and people who didn't crack their knuckles found good news: Cracking your knuckles probably won't increase your risk for arthritis. The popping sound of a cracked knuckle is caused by bubbles bursting in the synovial fluid, which helps lubricate joints. The bubbles pop when the bones are pulled apart, either by stretching the fingers or bending them back.
4. Arthritis can be cured.
The short answer is that there has been no scientific evidence that a cure for arthritis currently exists. Many discoveries and advancements have been made in terms of better treatment options and slowing disease progression. Because arthritis is a lifelong condition, it's important to learn about it — including how to control symptoms and options for finding relief from pain — to help you live your best possible life.