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Osteoarthritis Myths Debunked!

HealthCentral Editorial Staff Mar 28th, 2012 (updated Oct 15th, 2014)
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Fact or fiction?
Fact or fiction?

There are many misconceptions about osteoarthritis (OA), many of them centered around the things that can cause this degenerative joint condition. Others deal with the treatments--or the lack of treatments--for this type of arthritis.

Here we look at some well-known myths about osteoarthritis in an effort to separate medical fact from medical fiction.

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Myth: Everyone will get osteoarthritis as they age.
Myth: Everyone will get osteoarthritis as they age.

FALSE.  While your risk for developing OA does increase as you get older, the condition is not simply a "normal" part of aging. Many people who are more than 100 years old do not have OA!

Maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and allowing injuries to your joints to heal when they occur when you're younger are some ways to reduce your OA risk.

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Myth: There's no treatment for osteoarthritis once you have it.
Myth: There's no treatment for osteoarthritis once you have it.

FALSE. Though it's true that there is no cure for OA, there are a number of treatments for this type of arthritis. Pain medications, injections of substances that help cushion damaged joints, physical therapy, and surgery can help ease OA pain and other symptoms.

Joint replacement surgery also helps restore mobility to people with severe cases of OA.

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Myth: Cracking your knuckles causes osteoarthritis.
Myth: Cracking your knuckles causes osteoarthritis.

FALSE. The nervous habit of cracking your knuckles will not cause OA, but it can lead to other damage to your hands.

According to Dr. Patience White, the chief public health officer for the Arthritis Foundation, knuckle cracking causes inflammation to the tendons. It can also dislocate tendons, injure surrounding ligaments, and eventually lead to a loss of hand strength.

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Myth: Weather changes cause osteoarthritis.
Myth: Weather changes cause osteoarthritis.

BOTH TRUE AND FALSE. The barometric changes that accompany a change in weather don't cause arthritis, but they can aggravate the symptoms in people who already have OA.

Osteoarthritis symptoms can also feel worse in cold weather, but it's not the arthritis itself that's hurting. Cold temperatures cause muscles to tense and contract, and many people mistake these sensations for worsening osteoarthritis pain.

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Myth: Osteoarthritis is hereditary.
Myth: Osteoarthritis is hereditary.

BOTH TRUE AND FALSE. Your chances of getting OA are greater if your parents have OA, particularly if they have the condition in their knees. Women are more likely to inherit OA, and among Asian populations, scientists have found a higher hereditary link for hip OA, as well.

But more than 50 percent of cases of OA of the knee are due to other factors such as being overweight, lack of exercise, and knee injuries in early life.

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Myth: If I have osteoarthritis, I can't exercise.
Myth: If I have osteoarthritis, I can't exercise.

FALSE. Not only can you exercise if you have osteoarthritis, but low-impact exercise will actually help reduce your symptoms and improve your mobility. And exercise can also reduce your chances of ever getting OA.

Safe exercises include Tai Chi, yoga, swimming, and cycling. But you should always check with your doctor before starting any kind of exercise program.

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Myth: Wearing good shoes can prevent osteoarthritis.
Myth: Wearing good shoes can prevent osteoarthritis.

TRUE AND FALSE. No type of shoe can prevent or cure osteoarthritis, but a 2010 study did find that some types of shoes are better for people with this condition. Surprisingly, these include flip-flops and tennis shoes with flexible soles rather than the special walking shoes or clogs some use to ease their OA.  But one type of shoe will increase your risk for OA: women's high-heeled shoes.