5 myths about osteoarthritis

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, but this article by Robin Higginson, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist, looks at the most common form – osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis can also be known as ‘general wear and tear’, which may not be helpful as it could lead you to believe that activity causes your symptoms to get worse. In truth, osteoarthritis is a complex condition that can have many contributors and causes. It’s natural for joints to change with age, and this doesn’t always mean that you’ll feel pain. Sometimes it’s associated with stiffness and swelling.

The odds of having osteoarthritis increase with age, but it’s a myth that the condition is an inevitable part of ageing. It’s also a myth that only older people experience symptoms.

To help you understand osteoarthritis and manage its symptoms more effectively, let’s bust another five common myths about the condition:

Myth 1 – Those affected by osteoarthritis must avoid exercise

Quite the opposite. Exercise strengthens the muscles around the joints, which improves flexibility and reduces pain. Low impact activities such as walking, cycling and resistance training are ideal.

If walking, start with whatever distance feels achievable and doesn’t provoke symptoms. Build on this by 10% per week and adjust your distance depending on how you feel.

If you ever experience increasing pain during exercise that doesn’t go away, ease off and seek professional advice.

Myth 2 – Osteoarthritis always requires surgery

Surgery for osteoarthritis is only necessary in a small number of cases when symptoms can’t be controlled with a progressive activity plan. Lifestyle measures, medication and supportive therapies can all help manage the symptoms over time.

Myth 3 – Osteoarthritis always requires scans

There’s a common belief that scans and X-rays are inevitable for osteoarthritis patients, but the opposite is the case. X-rays aren’t usually helpful in diagnosing osteoarthritis as they may not correlate with the symptoms you’re experiencing.

Myth 4 – Pain equals damage

Evidence has shown that there’s no correlation between the changes that naturally occur in osteoarthritis and the symptoms that are experienced. If you feel pain, there’s still a huge opportunity for you to control your symptoms. And you can be assured that these symptoms don’t necessarily indicate further damage.

Myth 5 – Running makes knee osteoarthritis worse

If you’re a runner, osteoarthritis is no reason to stop. A recent study including runners and non-runners concluded that runners were no more likely to experience symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.

In most cases osteoarthritis can be improved without surgery, and physiotherapy is the recommended first-line treatment. Talk with your physio to find the right approach for you. You can learn more about arthritis here.

Last updated Friday 3 January 2020

First published on Wednesday 9 October 2019