Think you're alone in suffering from arthritis? You're not. Americans spend more than $130 billion—yes, billion—on arthritis treatments each year. So it should come as no surprise that physicians, researchers, and, well, the rest of us are always on the lookout for the latest ways to ease pain, no matter how costly—or how kooky—they are.
But there's a lot of misinformation out there, folks. That's why we polled our top-notch experts to get the truth about arthritis—and what you can do to start feeling better.
Myth: There's Only One Kind of Arthritis
"There's a perception that arthritis is arthritis, just like some people think cancer is cancer," says Dr. Mark Genovese, a rheumatologist and professor at the Stanford School of Medicine. "But it's just not true."
It could be gout, crystals, autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis, virus-caused arthritis or as many as 100 other kinds of the disease. That means if you think—or know—you have arthritis, you should slow down before you stock up on glucosamine supplements. Managing arthritis can't start until you know what type you have, says Dr. Genovese.
The best course of action if your joint pain is bothersome? Go see a doctor and find out what you've got.
Myth: My Diet Has Nothing to Do With It
It's not that certain foods are cure-alls, says Dr. Genovese, but having a healthy diet is a crucial factor in managing arthritis because your overall health is very important.
The foods that can help the most, according to Lona Sandon, RD and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, are those traditionally included in a Mediterranean diet, such as olive oil, lean meats and fish, vegetables and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Diet is especially important because people with arthritis are more likely to have type-2 diabetes, heart disease or be obese, according to Sandon.
So next time you're at the super market, pick up some flax seed oil and pile in the veggies. Doctor's orders.
Myth: I Can't Exercise
This may be the biggest myth of them all. "Most people have this self-fulfilling prophecy," says Dr. Elaine Husni, Director of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center at the Cleveland Clinic. "They think they can't exercise because they're feeling pain when they move." But inactivity, says Dr. Hsuni, can cause the sufferer's joints just continue to deteriorate.
The best workouts are low-impact, range-of-motion-based exercises, says Dr. Matteson, such as water aerobics or walking on a level surface. Tai Chi is a great choice, too, because it helps strengthen the muscles around the joints, he says, helping them resist wear and tear. Yoga can help, too.
Peggy Cappy, a yoga instructor with about 40 years of experience, created a DVD titled Easy Yoga For Arthritis. She says she's seen the benefits of yoga on her own arthritis, enjoying a wider range of motion, a more youthful body, a healthy weight, serenity of mind and more.
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Myth: I Can Cure Arthritis With Anti-Inflammatory Spices
Although ginger, turmeric and other spices do have anti-inflammatory properties—and eating them certainly can't hurt—there's little human-research data available to back them up as a treatment for chronic inflammation, says Sandon.
As of now, there's no accepted standard for how much of these ingredients are needed in order to provide any real benefit to the arthritic joints. So if you want pain relief in a pinch, you might be better off just taking ibuprofen, says Sandon. "Your inflammation isn't going to just go away because you had curry for dinner."
Myth: Glucosamine Supplements Will Rebuild My Joints
Glucosamine is a natural compound that's found in your joints and the cartilage around them, says Dr. Matteson. And although this supplement is widely available and helpful to some people, it doesn't do what most people think it does.
"Patients think taking it as a pill will rebuild joints," he says. But it doesn't. "Unless you inject it into the joint"—which can be done at your doctor's office—"there's no way of getting it into your joints," he says. "And it doesn't restore your joints, although some people say they get some pain relief from it in the short term."
Myth: Cracking My Knuckles Can Cause Arthritis
Here's the good news: There is no conclusive evidence that cracking knuckles and joints can cause arthritis later in life. Still, some experts caution you're better off not doing it anyway. Dr. Husni says that even if there isn't a direct tie, it's probably not wise to have that type of pop-causing movement done to your hands over and over again.
"At the very least, it's annoying," Dr. Matteson says. "And while it may accelerate arthritis damage in some people, it's not something that's really intensively studied."
Myth: I'm the Only One Who Suffers From Arthritis
One in 50 older Americans have had a knee replacement, says Dr. Matteson, and Americans spend more treating arthritis than they do cancer. Pretty astonishing, right?
"It is one of the most common conditions in the population," he says. "As you get older, almost everyone gets some form of arthritis. It's usually wear-and-tear arthritis, or osteoarthritis."
That means you're not alone—and are far from it. If you want to find strength in numbers, visit Arthritis.org to contact the Arthritis Foundation in your area for support-group recommendations.
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