Arthritis myths debunked

From cold weather to chilli peppers – here we look at some of the myths surrounding arthritis

According to NHS figures there are approximately 10 million people in the UK living with arthritis. Affecting such a large proportion of the population it is no wonder there are so many theories and myths around the condition.

Arthritis can manifest itself in many different ways but common symptoms include restricted movements in affected joints accompanied by pain and swelling.

Jan Vickery, AXA PPP healthcare’s lead physiotherapist, takes a look at some of the misconceptions surrounding arthritis today.

I just have to put up with it

Although a cure for the most common form of arthritis – osteoarthritis – has not yet been found, there are simple things you can do to improve your mobility and reduce pain:

  • a good healthy diet and lifestyle which includes some exercise
  • many people find that complementary or alternative therapies, such as acupuncture can help
  • fitting shoe insoles, leg braces or splint
  • Hydrotherapy may also help by improving strength and general fitness.

There are new treatments available for those with rheumatoid arthritis, such as anti-TNF therapy. See Arthritis UK for more details.

The pain is worse when it rains

Many people living with arthritis believe that damp, cold weather makes their symptoms worse.

Although not yet proven either way, Arthritis Research UK has funded a project, through the University of Manchester, to look into this. The data collected will hopefully give them enough information to finally conclude if our weather can adversely affect those with arthritis.

Chilli peppers can really help

As strange as this seems they may be able to help!

Capsaicin, usually prescribed for osteoarthritis in the hands or knees, is a medicinally active component of chillies. It is available in the form of a cream, gel or plasters and works by blocking pain signals coming from the nerves in your affected areas from reaching your brain. It can take up to a month before the effects of Capsaicin are felt.

Gardening is painful

It is important not to let arthritis stop you from enjoying your interests or hobbies. There is no evidence to suggest that gardening or any other type of hobby can make arthritis worse but if you feel that your pain does increase then perhaps adapting is the key.

You may be able to modify your tools or the way you garden, for instance, using a long handled trowel will reduce the need to bend or planting containers at a higher level may also help.

Wearing high heeled shoes is impossible

High heels place more pressure on your foot, your ankle and knee joints and so can make your pain worse.  Read more on wearing high heels.

However, it is worth doing some research on which shoes you are able to comfortably wear. Arthritis Research UK has been closely looking at this subject and are funding shoe design that are supportive but fashionable too.

Is arthritis hereditary?

Arthritis is as a result of a mix of genetics and environmental factors so it is not entirely hereditary.

Osteoarthritis may run in families but studies have not yet found which gene is the cause. Similarly, rheumatoid arthritis may be down to genetics but the risk of inheriting it is thought to be low.

However, if your arthritis is due to another hereditary medical condition such as Stickler Syndrome, then you may be more prone to it.

It’s too painful to exercise

Arthritis can be managed by regular exercise but it must be low impact (such as swimming and walking) and so shouldn’t be too painful.

Exercise can be helpful as it can reduce pain and stiffness by:

  • helping to build muscle
  • strengthening joints
  • improving joint mobility
  • improving posture

Exercise can also help by making you feel better and giving you more energy. It can help by keeping weight down which in turn will reduce pressure on your joints too.

See your physiotherapist for advice on the type and amount of exercise that is most suitable for you.

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