Osteoarthritis – also known as “wear and tear” arthritis – is a common condition, affecting about 27 million Americans. But many people don’t fully understand the disease or its treatment. Here, the most common myths about osteoarthritis are debunked.
Myth 1: Arthritis is just aches and pains – not a serious health problem.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive, degenerative disease in which the surface layer of joint cartilage slowly wears away. Cartilage is a rubbery tissue that allows bones to glide smoothly over one another. Without the cushioning effect of cartilage, the bones of the joint rub together. The joint can't move easily and becomes stiff, swollen and painful. Osteoarthritis is especially prevalent among middle-aged and older adults. Obesity and genetics are also contributing factors.
Myth 2: There’s not much I can I do if I have arthritis.
While there is no cure for arthritis, there are many things you can do to slow its progression, reduce pain and improve function. One of the most effective remedies is weight loss. Maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce stress on the joints. If you're overweight, losing just five percent of your current weight can improve your arthritis symptoms.
Myth 3: Exercise will increase disability.
Inactivity can actually worsen arthritis. Exercise is important to strengthen muscles and ligaments, reduce pain and control weight. Non-impact exercises are best, according to OrthoVirginia surgeon David Romness, MD. “The most beneficial forms of exercise are those that encourage motion without load and strengthen the muscles around the joint. Swimming, cycling and elliptical training are all excellent choices. Walking has some load but is low impact enough to be safe.” Your doctor or physical therapist can help develop an individualized exercise program that meets your needs and lifestyle.
Myth 4: The only way to treat arthritis is with joint replacement.
Although some people with osteoarthritis do eventually need joint replacement, there are many non-operative options you can try first. Over-the-counter drugs and topical creams and sprays can combat pain and inflammation. Prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroid injections or lubricating injections can provide temporary relief as well.
Myth 5: Joint replacement involves a long recovery and rehabilitation.
The standard of care for total joint replacement has improved dramatically in recent years. Patients are up and active sooner and function returns much more quickly. “The development of new minimally invasive approaches, enhanced implant materials and refined surgical techniques have significantly reduced recovery times,” says Mark McMahon, MD, who performs total hip replacement surgery at OrthoVirginia. “Long hospitals stays, long incisions and severe long-standing pain as experienced by prior generations of hip replacement patients are no longer part of today’s modern procedures. For minimally invasive total hip patients, the typical recovery period is now weeks rather than months.”