By: Wendy Haaf
Arthritis fact or fiction? You might be surprised.
Fiction: Only seniors get arthritis.
Fact: Arthritis doesn’t just affect older people: three out of five Canadians with the disease are under 65. Even kids aren’t immune: some types of arthritis (there are more than 100) strike during childhood, affecting 24,000 Canadian children.
Fiction: There’s nothing you can do to reduce your risk of arthritis.
Fact: While some risk factors for arthritis – like age – can’t be changed, others can. For instance, smokers are roughly twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as non-smokers, so avoiding tobacco likely reduces your risk. The same goes for maintaining a healthy body weight: obesity is increased with a three-fold increase in the chance of getting OA of the knee, and a doubling of the risk of hip OA. (Because one pound of excess weight exerts up to four pounds of stress on the knee joint, even once you have knee OA, losing a modest amount of weight can substantially improve symptoms.) You can read more about other risk factors here. (And just for the record, running does not cause arthritis, and neither does cracking your knuckles.)
Fiction: Arthritis isn’t serious, so it doesn’t matter whether you treat it.
Fact: Over time, some forms of inflammatory arthritis (like rheumatoid and psoriatic) can cause joint damage, and ultimately even deformity; but with today’s early, aggressive approach to treatment, and new, more effective therapies, it’s often possible to halt the destruction. Even slower-moving types of arthritis, like OA, can cause overwhelming fatigue and joint pain that interfere with an individual’s ability to enjoy life and carry out daily activities. “The impact of all forms of arthritis can be very serious, and really affect people’s quality of life, and ability to manage life,” stresses Lynn Moore, director of programs and services (national) for The Arthritis Society. The Society offers many resources to help, including an online program for overcoming fatigue: education.arthritis.ca
Fiction: People with arthritis shouldn’t exercise.
Fact: Exercise is vital to maintaining joint health and mobility, and managing pain. What’s more, strengthening the muscles around the joint may actually slow the progression of certain types of arthritis: for instance, in one study, people with knee OA were seven times less likely to experience a worsening of their disease if they had strong quadriceps muscles, compared to participants with weak quads. To learn more about exercising with arthritis, go here or here. Or consult a physiotherapist, who can devise a personalized exercise plan just for you.
Fiction: Arthritis only affects the joints.
Fact: Arthritis can affect various different parts of the body, including the brain. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is linked with a doubling in the risk of both heart attack and depression, while lupus can cause problems ranging from kidney damage and swelling in the lining of the lungs to seizures.
Fiction: If I had arthritis, I’d know it.
Fact: Many people dismiss symptoms like stiff, aching joints as signs of overuse or aging. In a recent survey of 1,500 Canadians conducted for The Arthritis Society, 200 respondents who had never been diagnosed with arthritis reported experiencing persistent pain in the same joint lasting more than six weeks – a possible symptom of undiagnosed OA. (Could you have arthritis? Take this quiz to find out.) If you suspect you have arthritis, talk to your doctor: Getting diagnosed is the first step in accessing the treatments and resources that can help you manage your condition, and live a longer, healthier, more satisfying life.