May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. As one of the most widespread conditions in the U.S., arthritis affects one in four adults, which equates to more than 54 million Americans. We’re taking this time to not only spread awareness but to educate and debunk the four most common myths about arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Let’s start with the basics. Arthritis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the joints. Arthritis can cause joint pain, stiffness, swelling, redness and a decreased range of motion. Its symptoms depend on the type of arthritis and generally worsen with age.
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These types of arthritis damage the joints in different ways.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and involves damage to your joint’s cartilage. Cartilage is the hard, slippery tissue that coats the ends of bones where they join to form a joint. Osteoarthritis causes cartilage to break down. With enough cartilage breakdown, bone may end up grinding directly on bone, causing pain and restricted movement. This wear and tear of the cartilage can happen over many years or happen quickly from a joint injury or infection.
The second most common type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that affects the lining of the joints. With rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints, a tough membrane called the synovium that encases all parts of the joint. The synovium becomes inflamed and swollen, eventually destroying cartilage and bone within the joint.
Now that we’ve covered a little bit about what arthritis is, it’s time to expose some common misconceptions about the condition.
Myth #1: Arthritis only affects the elderly
Arthritis does not only affect those who are in their advanced years. While the risk for arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, increases with age, individuals can be affected at any age. As an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any time. Juvenile arthritis is also an autoimmune disease that is characterized by swelling or inflammation of the synovium in children 16 years and younger.
Myth #2: People with arthritis shouldn’t exercise
According to the Arthritis Foundation, exercise is crucial for those who have arthritis. Exercise provides multiple benefits for arthritis patients, including improving muscle strength to take pressure off the joints. Increased strength and flexibility helps to reduce joint pain and fight fatigue.
Myth #3: All joint pain is arthritis
Although arthritis is a common diagnosis of joint pain, there are other conditions that can cause joint pain – such as lupus, bursitis, gout and tendonitis, all of which can result in aches, soreness or discomfort in the joints. Joint pain can also be caused by injury or illness.
Myth #4: There is no treatment for arthritis
Arthritis treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms and improving joint function. There are many different treatment options for arthritis, depending on the type. Doctors often treat rheumatoid arthritis with medication to slow the progression of the autoimmune disease. Osteoarthritis treatments often include over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, weight loss and other remedies. Physical therapy can also be helpful for some types of arthritis.
Individuals may need to try a few different treatments or a combination of treatments before deciding what works best.
Where to Seek Osteoarthritis Treatment
It’s important for your bone and joint health not to ignore aches, pains and stiffness in your joints. There may be temporary causes, but it can also be a sign of arthritis. If you are experiencing prolonged joint pain or think you may have degenerative joint issues, don’t delay in seeing your orthopaedist. We provide comprehensive orthopaedic and spine care at locations across the Triangle. Our orthopaedic specialists can recommend the best course of treatment. Contact us to book an appointment.