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Arthritis: Can you tell fact from fiction?


Some arthritis claims are so widespread, they’re practically urban legends. It’s important to know what’s true—and what’s not—so that you can better treat your arthritis or help a loved one cope with theirs.

Check out the following claims to learn whether they’re a fact or a myth:

1. Only older people get arthritis

Myth: You don’t have to be older to have arthritis. In fact, two-thirds of adults with the disease are under 65, according to the Arthritis Foundation. There’s even one type of arthritis that children can get. 

So if you have symptoms, talk with your doctor—no matter your age.

What are the symptoms of arthritis? The main ones are joint pain and stiffness. If you notice them or other arthritis symptoms, let your doctor know.

2. Cracking your knuckles can give you arthritis

Myth: That crunch you hear when you crack your knuckles may sound harmful. But what you’re hearing are tiny gas bubbles popping within your joints. And there’s no evidence that this causes arthritis.

So what does cause it? It partially depends on the type of arthritis you’re talking about. (There are more than 100 different kinds.) The most common (osteoarthritis) develops when cartilage between the joints wears down. That can be the result of normal wear and tear or a previous injury. Other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, happen when the body’s immune attacks its own tissues. Genetics also plays a role in several types of arthritis.

3. Weather changes can make arthritis pain worse

Fact: It’s a fascinating climate claim—and it appears to be correct.

No one knows why this happens. But some researchers think falling barometric (atmospheric) pressure or lowering temperatures may cause a related—and achy—rise in swelling within the joint. So, yes, arthritis pain may mean rain.

4. When arthritis acts up, it’s best to rest

Myth (well, sort of): Some people with arthritis may need to balance their activities with rest. But generally speaking, joint-friendly exercise is recommended for everyone with arthritis because it’s actually a great pain reliever.

You’ll want to choose low-impact activities that are gentle on your joints. Walking, swimming and cycling are a few good choices. Getting your doctor’s OK first is also a good idea.

And keep in mind, you may be a little sore until you get used to a new exercise routine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips if you have pain when you exercise:

  • Start slowly. Begin with a few minutes, a few days a week. Slowly build up until you’re active about five days a week. Keep a moderate pace at first—that means you can still talk while you work out.
  • Go gentle on joints. If one workout hurts, try another. Many people with arthritis love water workouts because they’re easy on their joints.
  • Outfit your feet. Comfortable, well-fitting shoes may help take pressure off your joints.

5. Some foods can cure arthritis

Myth. Unfortunately, there’s no one miracle food than can cure arthritis. But healthy eating is still important.

Why? A healthy diet may help you avoid excess weight. Extra pounds can strain your joints—especially your hips and knees. That pressure may contribute to arthritis or make it worse.

What about gout?

Gout is a particularly painful form of arthritis. Get tips on managing—or maybe even avoiding it.