As arthritis is such a common medical problem affecting millions of people all around the world it isn't surprising that a series of myths have emerged which many of us have come to regard as real facts.
It's quite understandable how many people have come to regard arthritis as an "old persons" condition, something that might affect your elderly relatives. Whilst this may well be true, it isn't quite so widely appreciated that some forms of arthritis can affect younger people. And it's possible to sustain joint injuries at any age which can lead to osteoarthritis, which is one of the most common forms of arthritis.
It is estimated that more than half of arthritis sufferers are under the age of 65, but juvenile arthritis can begin in children as young as infants and toddlers. Arthritis affects many people as they age it is certainly not an inevitable part of aging. In fact, according to the American College of Rheumatology, one third of people older than age 70 show no x-ray evidence of osteoarthritis. And out of the 70 percent of people who do show signs of joint deterioration associated with osteoarthritis in x-rays, only half of them actually develop symptoms.
Does damp weather lead to arthritis?
It's a very common assumption that that the aches and pains of arthritis are brought on by cold and damp weather, and according to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly half of arthritis patients think they can predict the weather. But the medical studies to confirm this have been inconclusive. Having said that it is recognised that warmer milder weather may make arthritis sufferers feel better, but it might well be because they are more active in milder weather than they are during the bleaker winter months.
Arthritis and exercise: good or bad?
There is a school of thought that exercise aggravates the symptoms of arthritis. But the Fitness Arthritis and Seniors Trial which was the largest clinical trial to evaluate the effect of exercise on arthritis sufferers, found that those in the study that exercised regularly had significant improvements in symptoms of physical disability, as well as increased physical performance and reduced pain.
It is recognized that exercise promotes function and mobility, controls weight and strengthens the muscles that support the joints but keep in mind that this relates to moderate exercise like walking, Aquafit or perhaps Tai Chi, and that high-impact exercises like running, especially if your knees bother you, should probably be avoided.
Arthritis and diet
Research shows that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains, complemented by a diet that includes the "good" fats found in fish and olive oil and nuts may be particularly effective at protecting joints and helping to relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
But not all foods are equal when it comes to relieving arthritis symptoms and there is a question mark over whether vegetables in the "nightshade" family including potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine and peppers, can worsen symptoms. And whilst the medical jury is still out on this one and the longer term studies are completed it does seems that certain foods may worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, at least in some people.
Knuckle-cracking: more than just annoying?
I remember my relatives warning me not to crack my knuckles as a child because it would cause arthritis later in life, so you may have heard this story too. And although it may seem a plausible conclusion, so far the medical studies have found no association between knuckle-cracking and arthritis.
Knuckle cracking may remain an annoying habit, which might eventually affect your grip or your strength, it doesn't actually mean that the knuckle cracker will develop arthritis later in life. But on reflection you might prefer to keep this secret fact to yourself in the company of your children or grandchildren.