Top Three Arthritis Myths
Just because you hear something (or say it yourself) over and over from many different people, doesn't make it true. The same can be said about much of "conventional wisdom" related to osteoarthritis.
These are three of the arthritis myths I hear over and over:
1. Arthritis pain is a normal part of getting older. There is nothing you can do about that.
Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing this one! While joints will tend to show some wear-and-tear on x-rays as they age, the pain associated with arthritis is no more inevitable in life than heart disease. As we age, we may be at greater risk for developing arthritis pain, but it is not inevitable. The sooner we take better care of our musculoskeletal health, the better our odds are of not developing the pain associated with arthritis. You don't wait until you have a heart attack to worry about your heart and you shouldn't wait until you have knee pain before you take care of your joints. Before you develop pain, visit your doctor, make sure it is safe for you to exercise, and then work with a physical therapist and/or trainer to develop an exercise program that is right for you so you don't develop pain in the future.
2. If you have pain, you should rest until the pain goes away.
This one makes some intuitive sense, but it's wrong. Years ago, when people had back pain we used to prescribe bed rest. Now we know that this was counterproductive. Backs and joints require movement to restore and maintain health. Of course, when they are painful, it can be hard to exercise them! Sometimes, during an acute flare of pain, you may need to take it easy for a couple of days. The challenge is to exercise the muscles around the joint without exacerbating the pain. It is okay to work through a little muscle soreness but you should never work through joint pain. For this reason, it is important to work with your doctor, physical therapist and trainer to develop an exercise program that is safe and effective for you. Joints are like hinges. If they sit still, they rust. When they get moving in a safe, pain-free way, they stay healthy.
3. If the x-ray shows severe osteoarthritis, you need surgery.
This myth is both wrong and dangerous. X-rays give an insight into how the bones in the joint look, and they give a glimpse at how much cartilage is left. However, they don't reflect the amount of pain the joint is causing. Some people with no pain have terrible looking x-rays! And, reciprocally, some people with pretty good-looking x-rays have terrible pain. As doctors, our job is to treat you, not your x-ray. When I see a patient with mild pain and severe osteoarthritis on the x-ray, far from rushing that patient to surgery, I make sure that he or she understands there is not much cartilage left in the joint - and so it is that much more important for us to calm down the inflammation and allow the patient to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the joint so that he or she won't need surgery in the future.