Fact-check: 3 myths about osteoarthritis

Fact-check: 3 myths about osteoarthritis

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Globally, 15% individuals, aged 30 years or older, are affected by this degenerative joint disease.

According to a recent study published in The Lancet Rheumatology, the global burden of osteoarthritis is expected to reach one billion by 2050. Based on data spanning three decades (1990-2020) from over 200 countries, the study found that 15% individuals, aged 30 years or older, globally, are affected by this degenerative joint disease. 

Often called “the wear and tear” (aka degenerative) joint disease, osteoarthritis is the most widespread type of arthritis. Despite its growing prevalence, there are numerous misconceptions and myths about the condition that contribute to delayed treatment, poor quality of life, and unnecessary anxiety for those dealing with it.

First Check debunks 3 common myths about osteoarthritis. 

Myth 1: Osteoarthritis only affects old people.

Fact: One of the most prevalent myths about osteoarthritis is that it is a “natural process” of old age. Although it is true that elderly people are more susceptible to the disease, it can affect younger people too.

It starts with the cartilage gradually deteriorating, often from mechanical stress or excessive inflammation within the body. This causes the bones in joints, such as knees, shoulders, or wrists, to rub together, leading to pain, stiffness, and at times, swelling. 

Myth 2: If you are not obese, you cannot have osteoarthritis.

Fact: Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for joint health, but it is not the sole determinant of degenerative joint disease. Regardless of your weight, you can develop osteoarthritis. Young, active, and athletic individuals can also be at risk. 

Factors such as family history, prior joint injuries or trauma (playing professional sports, for instance), and repetitive use of certain joints (a typing job, for instance) can increase the risk of osteoarthritis. 

Myth 3: It’s advisable to avoid physical activity in the case of osteoarthritis. 

Fact: While intense physical activities may not be medically recommended for people with osteoarthritis, moderate level of physical exercise can be highly beneficial. In fact, avoiding physical activity altogether can increase the discomfort and rigidity linked to osteoarthritis. Most doctors suggest simple physical exercises like walking, cycling and aquatics to increase mobility and decrease the pain. 

It is crucial to debunk these misconceptions related to osteoarthritis to ensure early diagnoses and timely treatment. Seeking suitable medical care and adopting healthy lifestyle changes can significantly elevate one’s quality of life. 

(Medically reviewed by Dr Diana Girnita, a California-based rheumatologist and Founder of Rheumatologist OnCall.)