September is Arthritis Awareness Month. Elizabeth Rogers wrote an article in Zoomer magazine debunking some common myths and misconceptions about the disease. Her article is summarized here.
BY ELIZABETH ROGERS
There are over 100 forms of the disease, even infants can develop it, and in some cases, it can be fatal. Dismissing this affliction as little more than “aches and pains” can prove more dangerous than many people realize.
Myth 1: It’s not too serious…right?
Wrong. Arthritis is a pain in both the joints and the pocketbook.
Arthroscope: The Arthritis Society of Canada reports that arthritis is one of Canada’s top three chronic conditions, affecting more than 4 million Canadians – a number expected to rise to about 6.3 million people by 2026.
The financial impact of arthritis-related health care expenses is very serious: lost productivity, long-term disability payments, expenses for home modifications and lost wages. This impact exceeds $4 billion a year. To add to the financial cost, it turns out musculoskeletal diseases are the second most expensive diseases in Canada – even more costly than cancer.
How serious is arthritis? Some types of arthritis are fatal. According to Statistics Canada, just over two deaths per 100,000 people each year are caused by arthritis or a related condition. It may not sound like much, but that’s more deaths than are caused by asthma or HIV.
Myth 2: It’s just part of the aging process.
Stats show those over 55 are four times more likely to have arthritis than younger people. By age 80 nearly half of the population will develop the condition.
Arthritis isn’t an “old person’s disease.” It can strike at any age – even infancy. One in 1000 children and teenagers under the age of 16 have been diagnosed with arthritis while an estimated 200,000 Canadians between the ages of 25-40 live with it.
Worse still, studies show that people under 45 are less likely to receive the proper medical attention to manage the condition.
Myth 3: All arthritis is alike.
“Arthritis” is an umbrella term for more than 100 related diseases affecting certain joints, tissues, or even the whole body.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form, causes the deterioration of cartilage often in the hands, feet, knees and hips. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, however, are autoimmune disorders where the body attacks its own healthy tissues. Related conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by the stress of repetitive motion.
Myth 4: Only joints are affected.
Arthritis can take various forms affecting muscles, tendons, connective tissue, bones and/or bursa (the fluid-filled sacs around joints). Systemic conditions like lupus even affect the body’s vital organs.
Arthritis can even impact on emotions causing depression, anger, disrupted sleep, fever, unexplained weight loss, weakness and fatigue – not to mention the psychological stress of living with chronic pain.
Myth 5: Arthritis can be cured.
There isn’t a cure for arthritis except for infectious arthritis (the kind caused by a bacteria, virus or fungus). Some forms of arthritis can go into periods of remission where symptoms subside, sometimes for several years, but it doesn’t really go away.
For those who want to try a more natural approach, experts warn that there is no clinically-proven single food, supplement or miracle diet that can cure arthritis. However, a healthy, balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats is recommended.
Myth 6: Pain pills are the only treatment option.
Though acetaminophen seems to be the treatment of choice for that many people, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) seem to keep inflammation in check in others.
Besides meds, symptoms are managed by other means. Physical and occupational therapy can improve mobility, flexibility, and help make everyday activities easier. Surgery may be another consideration in treating an affected joint.
Other treatments with varying effectiveness range from massage to acupuncture to guided imagery techniques and even the healing power of laughter.
Myth 7: Exercise makes it worse.
Exercise is now recognized as an essential part of a pain management strategy. It helps maintain strength, balance and range of motion. Extra weight puts excess strain on the joints. There are joint-friendly exercises which can be undertaken, water aerobics or tai chi, certain forms of yoga. Some individuals find some relief by meditation or mindfulness behavioural training.
Weight-lifting and weight-bearing activities help build strong muscles, which in turn help support and protect joints. [ Before considering any form of therapy or exercise program, individuals should consult with their doctor. ]
Myth 8: You can’t do anything to prevent it.
There’s much we don’t know about arthritis and some of the wrist factors are unavoidable (age, sex or heredity). However, healthy lifestyle choices like proper diet, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the risk. Excess weight in women may increase the risk of arthritis in the hips and hands, and in men, there is a risk of gout.
Avoid pain and inflammation caused by repetitive motion by taking frequent breaks at work and using proper form – like making sure your desk and computer are ergonomically arranged.