Arthritis, or wear and tear as it is also known, affects over 9 million people in the UK. I believe there is a real lack of understanding about arthritis, how it affects people and also the treatment options that are available to you. So here are 4 surprising misconceptions surrounding this common and often very painful condition.
1. Running causes hip and knee arthritis.
Surely this has to be true? If you impact a joint repeatedly it will, over time, wear out? Strangely, the exact opposite appears to be the case. Runners are far less likely to suffer from hip and knee arthritis than non-runners. Not only that, they appear to have thicker cartilage in these areas in comparison.
So how can this be? Our bodies aren’t like machines in which the parts only ever degrade and will eventually wear out. They are alive and dynamic environments which are constantly healing and regenerating in response to the forces that we put through them. Bone and cartilage remodels over time in response to our activities which then leads to thicker, stronger bone and cartilage and stronger joints. So it isn’t simply a case of use it or lose it, it’s actually use it to improve it.
2. Arthritis is always painful
This is another one that is difficult to believe but in many cases arthritis is not painful at all. There are many situations where people will go for an X-ray for an unrelated issue only to be told they have a significantly arthritic joint in that area. The patient will often be completely unaware of this, experiencing no symptoms or loss of movement whatsoever.
This fits in with our current understanding of the way pain works. Pain is the body’s response to the perception of threat or damage to an area so, if you aren’t concerned or aware that there is an issue, it’s possible you won’t experience any pain. Ignorance really is bliss.
Personally, I’m not sure it’s wise to inform people of the issue in these instances as I imagine people would rather not know, especially if they aren’t experiencing any discomfort. Once someone is aware of the arthritis, it’s difficult for them not to become hyper aware and over vigilant of the area which almost certainly increases the chance of the area becoming painful.
3. Arthritis hurts more in cold weather
This is one of those instances where the research doesn’t reflect patients’ real world experience. Everyone I speak to believes that their joints are significantly affected negatively by the cold weather but there isn’t a single piece of evidence that supports this. There have been large scale studies with tens of thousands of people measuring their pain levels, many times a day over the course of the year. These results were then matched to local weather reports for temperature, air pressure and humidity and the research hasn’t found a single connection between pain levels and weather. If you have a painful joint it will be hard to believe, but it really does seem to be true.
So why do people feel that cold weather makes their joint pain worse? No one knows for sure at the moment.
4. Arthritis always gets worse
It’s widely believed that once a joint becomes arthritic it will only get worse until you may eventually need surgery. We now know this isn’t always the case. It’s possible to have an irritable joint with a bit of wear and tear, which never progresses beyond that. Arthritis is a process of wear and tear within the joint but as mentioned earlier our bodies are dynamic environments that are capable of healing and regenerating. So the reality is that wear and tear is also balanced with repair. There are many factors that can affect this balance such as genetics, diet and activity levels.
Patients often instinctively stop using an irritable joint for fear of making it worse. A joint needs to be used to be healthy and keeping active is an essential part of that. You can’t make arthritis worse by being active; it can only help! Remember “rest is rust, motion is lotion” :).
If you are suffering, or you know someone suffering with a problematic joint, osteopathic treatment can often help stabilise the symptoms and significantly improve your range of motion, with many patients improving to the point of becoming pain free. If you would like to talk about whether osteopathy could help you then we offer a free 15 minute consultation to answer any questions or concerns you may have and assess whether osteopathic treatment may benefit you.