Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints; it can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, redness, and difficulty in moving the affected joint. The term ‘Arthritis’, as such, encompasses several medical conditions affecting the joints and other organs of the body. Osteoarthritis (OA), commonly known as degenerative or ‘wear & tear’ Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) are two of the commonest types of Arthritis. Other common arthritic disorders include Reactive Arthritis (following an infection), Ankylosing Spondylitis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Gout, Lupus, and Juvenile Arthritis.
Let’s separate the myths from the facts, clearing misconceptions related to the disease.
DOES ARTHRITIS ONLY AFFECT THE ELDERLY?
This isn’t entirely true.While OA is commonly seen as age advances, other types of Arthritis are more common in the younger population. For example, Juvenile Arthritis affects children andconditions likeRheumatoid Arthritis& Lupus are more commonly seen in younger adults.
IS ARTHRITIS INEVITABLE WITH ADVANCING AGE?
A common misconception is that Degenerative Arthritis (Osteoarthritis) is bound to occur with advancing age. A healthy and active lifestyle, balanced diet, normal body weight, andprotection of jointsagainst injuries can help prevent or delay the development of Osteoarthritis.
DOES ARTHRITIS ONLY AFFECT JOINTS?
Many arthritic conditions affect other body organs in addition to joints. For instance, Rheumatoid Arthritis can affect the Lungs, Heart, and Nerves too. Similarly, Lupus affects Skin, Kidneys, Heart, and Lungs, in addition to joints. Psoriatic Arthritis can affect the Heart and Eyes.
DO ALL PAIN MEDICINES FOR ARTHRITIS CAUSE KIDNEY DAMAGE?
One class of pain medicines called ‘Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) increase the risk of Kidney damage. However, there are other pain medicines which are generally safe for your Kidneys and are commonly used to treat the pain of Arthritis.
CAN KNUCKLE CRACKING DAMAGE THE JOINTS?
Many people indulge in knuckle cracking. This activity is benign and there is no scientific evidence to show that it damages the joints. So, whether you crack your knuckles to relax or just as a habit, you need not worry about joint damage.
DO I HAVE ARTHRITIS IF MY KNEE MAKES CRACKLING OR POPPING NOISES?
Noises can be commonly felt in normal Knees and arenot a cause for concern. However, it is abnormal if that noise is accompanied with pain, swelling, or locking of the Knee and you must consult a specialist in that situation.
CAN WEATHER AFFECT MY ARTHRITIS PAIN?
There is some evidence that cold and moist climate can worsen the symptoms of Arthritis. Similarly, warm and less damp weather conditions can improve symptoms. However, there is no difference in the prevalence of Arthritis in regions with warm and cold climates.
DO ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION AND SMOKING AFFECT ARTHRITIS?
The effect of alcohol depends upon the type of Arthritis. For instance, alcohol can increase the risk of Gout. However, its consumption in moderation has been found to reduce the risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Alcohol can interact with medications used in the treatment of Arthritis which can be harmful.Smoking increases the risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis and worsens its symptoms. Research shows that smoking can result in greater loss of joint cartilage, thus increasing the risk of Osteoarthritis.
ARE TOMATOES AND SOUR OR CITRUS FOODS BAD FOR ARTHRITIS?
A common misconception is that Tomatoes and Citrus or acidic foods must be avoided as they can worsen the pain of Arthritis. However, there is no scientific basis to support that. Sufferers of Arthritis should rather avoid excess salt, sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed and fried foods.
CAN SUPPLEMENTS TREAT OA?
Many people consume glucosamine and chondroitin supplements believing that these can help regenerate joint cartilage and cure OA. But nothing could be further from the truth. Some patients do report relief in symptoms after consuming these supplements, but scientific evidence suggests that their effects may not be any better than placebo. Furthermore, there is no data to show that they prevent or delay the progression of OA.
IS YOGA GOOD FOR ARTHRITIS?
Yoga asanas which focus on stretching, joint flexibility, breathing, and relaxation not onlyalleviate symptoms but alsoimprove the physical & psychological health in patients suffering from Arthritis. Some modifications while performing these asanas may be required according to the individual’s condition.
CAN RUNNING INCREASE THE RISK OF KNEE ARTHRITIS?
Contrary to popular belief, running correctly does not increase the risk of future Arthritis. In fact, it is good for your muscle and joint health;it may even protect your knees from developing OA. Running without appropriate shoes, or proper training, or exceeding your limits can increase the risk of injuries which in turn predisposes to Arthritis. Patients who already have Arthritis and loss of joint cartilage are usually advised to avoid running as arthritic joints do not function like normal joints. Running, in these individuals can worsen their pain and may causeprogression of Arthritis.
WILL PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES CAUSE MORE DAMAGE IF I HAVE ARTHRITIS?
Healthy physical activities help to maintain muscle strength and joint flexibilityandare encouraged. It is generally recommended that one performs at least 30 minutes of health activity every day for at least 3-5 days in a week. Walking (leisure or brisk), cycling, and swimming are examples of healthy activities. Some adjustments may be needed while doing your activities depending upon the joints affected.
(Disclaimer: Writer is Dr Siddharth M. Shah, Joint Replacement Surgeon, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim.Views expressed are a personal opinion.)