Do you have stiff hands and feet when you wake up…wrists that throb with pain… or joints that ache with everyday activities such as getting dressed? You may be wondering if you have arthritis, or you may be diagnosed with a form of arthritis and not be clear about what it means. Joint pain is more and more common, and it can be debilitating. But there’s a fine line between fact and fiction. Pain and disability don’t have to be the center of your life. Debunking some of the myths about arthritis will help you find the resources you need to alleviate pain, and give you back your life. You’ll also learn about some simple, non-invasive approaches that can reduce your symptoms and improve your daily outlook! Myth #1: All types of arthritis are the same. Truth: Arthritis is an umbrella term for joint pain and joint disorders. The term “arthritis” means “joint inflammation” and there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. Arthritis generally falls into two categories: a) Autoimmune response b) Wear and tear on the joints The biggest confusion is about rheumatoid arthritis (RA) osteoarthritis (OA), and juvenile arthritis (JA). Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and juvenile arthritis (JA) are autoimmune diseases. This means the body makes antibodies that attack its own tissues. Other autoimmune diseases include lupus, Type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Osteoarthritis is a result of structural problems by external stressors. This can come from physical injury from sports, an accident, or wear and tear over the years. You may be confused because the symptoms of pain, swelling, joint stiffness and decreased mobility are similar. It’s comforting to know that most people have osteoarthritis, and that it’s not a disease. [caption id="attachment_140" align="alignright" width="300"] Arthritis can effect anyone[/caption] Myth #2: Arthritis only affects the elderly. Truth: Since plenty of older people have visible signs of arthritis, from misshapen hands to walkers and wheelchairs, it’s easy to see how this myth was formed. RA and JA are autoimmune diseases, and can develop at any age. JA can affect children at any age, and it’s estimated that about 300,000 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. OA develops from wear and tear on the joints, as a result of injury or overuse. This can come at any time, so it’s not only the aged who are affected. Myth #3: Arthritis is just minor aches and pains that are part of aging. Truth: While everyone has aches and pains at times, severe pain in the joints, muscles or bones are not inevitable as we age. In fact, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States, and limits people’s activity more than heart disease, cancer or diabetes. It’s estimated that 67 million Americans will suffer from arthritis by 2030, if the trend is not reversed. If you suspect you have arthritis, or have acute pain that persists for more than a few days, see your physician and ask about a referral to a rheumatologist. Myth #4: Arthritis leads to disability, wheelchairs and nursing homes. Truth: Being diagnosed with arthritis does not mean you’re headed towards disability. Since RA is related to your immune system, keep it strong by eating the right foods, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Also ask your health practitioner about supplements that support the immune system. OA is easier to avert and manage because it’s mostly related to lifestyle changes. Make sure to eat nourishing food that protects your joints, exercise, and avoid weight gain. It’s important to understand that arthritis is a continuum, and one size doesn’t fit all. With better diagnosis and treatments, you can stop or reduce the symptoms so they don’t progress into your senior years. Myth #5: Your weight is not connected to your arthritis. Truth: With arthritis, the joints of the body are inflamed, swollen and painful. Extra weight puts more stress on the bones and joints. Some studies show that even a small amount of weight loss can help ease arthritis pain, especially in the knees and hips. Studies also show that lack of exercise can contribute to joint pain and stiffness. Moving helps to lubricate the joints and stretch the muscles, which helps bring fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to the joints. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advocates exercise to keep your muscles strong and your joints flexible, which reduces arthritis and joint pain. [caption id="attachment_141" align="alignright" width="300"] Sugar causes inflammation[/caption] Myth #6: Food has nothing to do with arthritis. Truth: Food is a critical piece of the puzzle in dealing with pain and inflammation. Too much fat, sugar, and processed food leads to inflammation. That compromises the immune system, and deprives your body of essential nutrients. Several foods are noted for increasing inflammation in people who suffer from arthritis: 1. Nightshade vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. For people who are sensitive or allergic to these foods, they can cause nerve damage and muscle tremors. It’s worthwhile to eliminate them from your diet for two weeks, to see if your joint pain improves. Then add them back one at a time, to see if your pain returns. This will tell you if you are sensitive or allergic to these foods. 2. Acidic foods: Acidic foods “corrode” your body, just as acids can corrode a battery. When your body is too acidic, your immune system is compromised, leading to infections and allergies, and placing you at higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis. See the blog post, Is Your Body on Fire? for more information on which foods are acidic. [caption id="attachment_142" align="alignright" width="300"] Arthritis doesn't have to limit you![/caption] Myth #7: If you have arthritis, you’re doomed to a life of pain. Truth: Many simple changes can greatly reduce, if not completely eliminate, the daily throbbing pain of arthritis. And while you can’t control your genetics, you can control your lifestyle choices. In addition to choosing the right foods and exercise, and managing stress, you have many other aids at your fingertips. These include supplements, therapeutic creams and healing mitts and booties that can ease joint stress and increase mobility. The power is in your hands to make changes that will improve your life!