When you live with arthritis, it can sometimes be tough to sort out facts from fiction, with plenty of myths about arthritis circulating. Let's take a closer look at some arthritis myths and uncover the truth behind them.
Myth 1: Cracking knuckles causes arthritis
"There is no evidence that says cracking knuckles causes damage [to the joints]," says Ashima Narayan, an Arthritis Society Canada physiotherapist. While cracking your knuckles excessively could end up harming ligaments or tendons and may also contribute to reduced grip strength over time, it is not going to cause arthritis.
Myth 2: If I have arthritis, my kids will get it too
There are some genes associated with a higher risk of some kinds of arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. But, in general, there isn't a definite yes or no when it comes to a family tendency towards arthritis. If you have a close family member with arthritis, like a parent or a sibling, it's a good idea to keep that health information on your radar and to share it with your healthcare provider if you do develop symptoms that could point to arthritis, such as pain or stiffness that won't go away.
Myth 3: You can get arthritis from sleeping on your shoulder
Postures like sleeping on one side or sitting cross-legged will not cause arthritis, says Narayan. However, if you already have arthritis, good posture both while sleeping and awake can help prevent soreness, fatigue and stiffness.
Myth 4: Certain foods cause arthritis
While there isn't any evidence that particular foods cause arthritis, there are some foods that can contribute to inflammation if you already have arthritis. These foods include saturated fat in processed meats and red meat, as well as the refined carbohydrates, artificial trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup and processed and added sugars that are part of many forms of processed food. To help fight inflammation, opt for fruits and veggies, extra virgin olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids, dairy and dairy alternatives, green tea, nuts and garlic.
Nightshade foods (which include potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and spices like cayenne and paprika) often have a bad reputation. But the idea that nightshade foods cause arthritis to worsen is not quite true.
Myth 5: Gout is only for wealthy people
Gout may have this reputation because it's associated with other types of excess, including overconsumption of alcohol and foods rich in compounds called purine, found in organ meats and oily fish. However, gout can affect a wide variety of people, and is more commonly found in anyone living with diabetes or high blood pressure. It is a form of inflammatory arthritis caused by higher levels of uric acid crystals in the blood which are deposited around joints and lead to inflammation, but is curable with appropriate treatment.
Myth 6: Exercise makes arthritis worse
True, certain forms of exercise that have lots of jumping or jarring are not a good idea when you're living with arthritis. "If you already have arthritis, and you keep provoking your symptoms with high-impact or high-intensity workouts, yes, your pain will get worse," notes Narayan. Joint-friendly exercise and joint-friendly everyday activities, on the other hand, help protect the joints, improve mobility and make your quality of life better. "You're strengthening the muscles above and below the joint and around the joint," explains Narayan. This helps stabilize the joint and reduce strain on it. In addition to swimming and other water workouts, other joint-friendly exercise includes cycling, walking and lifting light weights. As well, protecting your joints in your day-to-day life—such as using two hands to lift something if you have arthritis in the hands or arm joints—helps distribute the weight and puts larger muscles and joints to work.
Myth 7: Only old people get arthritis
There are more than 100 forms of arthritis, and they can affect people at any age. For example, about 3 in 1,000 Canadian children have childhood arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis most commonly develops between ages 40 and 60. It's true, though, that osteoarthritis (OA) is more common as you age.
One "myth" that has something to it: weather can sometimes affect arthritis due to changing temperatures and barometric pressure.