It's not a stretch to say that virtually everyone has heard of arthritis. Someone wakes up stiff in the morning...must be arthritis. Knee hurts and it happens to be raining...blame it on arthritis! Back hurts and you happen to be fifty or older...must be our old friend Arthur Itis (arthritis - for those of you who missed my poor joke).
For something that is so commonplace and infamous, the truth of the matter is that we don't know as much as you might think. Here's a quick true or false quiz:
People who exercise rigorously or who are on their feet all the time have a higher risk of arthritis???
Arthritis only affects older people?
If my mom or dad had arthritis then it's more likely that I will have it too?
The answer to the first two questions is false. People who play sports or who are on their feet all day (such as a waitress) do not increase their likelihood of arthritis. To be more clear, the issue seems to be related to an injury, not participation in a sport/exercise. If you injur a joint significantly (the joint - not a muscle) you will have an increased likelihood of getting arthritis in that joint. They have conducted studies that follow people throughout their life and have not found evidence that strenuous exercise causes arthritis. In fact, I see just as many people who are certified couch potatoes and have arthritis.
Arthritis can affect anyone, not just the old folks out there. There are a few different types of arthritis and even some that can affect children.
The third question relates to genetics, and the answer is true. There seems to be a genetic component to arthritis.
In general here is what we know (at least what I know - and there are many smarter people who are doing research to find out more):
Arthritis is a degenerative disease - which means it progresses. As time goes on the arthritis generally worsens. It can affect any joint in the body. It is characterized by painful range of motion as well as limited range of motion in a particular joint. The joint stiffens with inactivity and can become painful with too much activity. Some people swear that rain affects their symptoms - and I will admit that I have seen research saying both low and high pressure influences arthritis symptoms - what that means I don't know).
You are more likely to get it if you have family members with it, if you are obese, or if you have had a significant injury to a joint. These are all ideas supported by research. There's a message here for us...we need to loose weight!!! That's probably the biggest risk factor we can control to prevent arthritis.
The good news is that there is also good research on combating arthritis. While it can not be cured - meaning you will always have the arthritis - that doesn't mean you have to have pain and suffer as a result.
I'm not a big fan of medication but anti-inflammatories can help. There is also good research that shows physical therapy being effective at decreasing pain and improving function in people with arthritis. We see many people with arthritis that leave the clinic pain-free after a course of physical therapy. That should be your first line of defense. The last line of defense, after all other options have been tried is a total joint replacement. While that prospect is scary to many, I can tell you that after surgery and physical therapy to rehab the joint postoperatively, the overwhelming majority of cases have excellent outcomes.
Maybe some of this information is suprising to you, or maybe you learned something new. If you are concerned with getting arthritis I would suggest trying to loose weight. If you think you have arthritis or you have it and are in pain I would suggest trying physical therapy. Comments and questions always encouraged.
Yours in Health,
Chris Ostling PT, DPt www.nextsteppt.com