Source from Everyday Health
, By Anne L. Fritz, Medically reviewed by Kevin O. Hwang, MD, MPH
Can cracking your knuckles or wearing high heels cause osteoarthritis? Does this type of arthritis affect only older adults? Discover the truth.
Osteoarthritis, in which joint cartilage breaks down, is the most common form of arthritis, affecting nearly 27 million Americans age 25 and older. In a healthy joint, the ends of bones are encased in smooth cartilage that is protected by a joint capsule and synovial fluid. In a person who has osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears away, spurs may grow from the edge of the bone, and the amount of synovial fluid in the joint increases. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that one out of every two Americans will develop osteoarthritis in his or her lifetime, you can make an effort to prevent it or to manage the symptoms. The more you know about this disease, the more you can do to avoid it.
Myth No. 1: Cracking Knuckles Cause Osteoarthritis
While cracking your knuckles may lead to inflammation of tendons, it won’t cause arthritis, says Patience White, MD, chief public health officer of the Arthritis Foundation. “Cracking knuckles is usually a nervous tic, which relaxes the person for a while,” she says. But that’s not a green light to do it. Studies have shown that habitually cracking your knuckles through the years may injure surrounding ligaments, cause dislocation of tendons, and decrease hand strength.
Myth No. 2: Wearing High Heels Leads to Osteoarthritis
If you wear low heels or sturdy one- to two-inch heels or limit your wearing of high heels to evenings or special occasions, you’re probably okay. However, if you wear very high heels day in and day out, you may increase your risk for developing osteoarthritis of the knees. “It’s harder to stand straight when wearing high heels, and this causes a lot of stress on the knees,” says Dr. White. Knees are one of the chief areas to be hit by osteoarthritis. In addition, high heels that are tight across the toes can aggravate bunions, or arthritis of the toes. You’re better off wearing low heels and leaving the stilettos to the models.
Myth No. 3: Diet Doesn’t Affect Joints
“Any pound you gain is four pounds across your knees,” White says. Being overweight increases the chances that you will develop osteoarthritis and
increases the rate at which the condition, if you do develop it, will progress, so it’s doubly imperative to follow a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight
. Two in three people who are obese will develop osteoarthritis in their lifetime.
Myth No. 4: I Can’t Exercise With Joint Pain
“This is one of the biggest misconceptions about osteoarthritis,” says White. Not only can you exercise with osteoarthritis, but safe, low-impact exercises can lessen the pain and improve other symptoms. If you don’t have osteoarthritis, exercise can reduce your risk of ever getting it. White recommends walking, swimming, cycling, and yoga. “These exercises help keep the muscles around the joint strong and involve stretching, which enables you to maintain a full range of motion,” she says. Always check with your physician, of course, before starting any exercise regimen.
Myth No. 5: Active Teenagers Can’t Get Osteoarthritis
Playing on your high school softball or football team is good for many reasons, especially if it instilled an ongoing love for fitness and knowledge about it. But if you were seriously injured, you may be at increased risk for osteoarthritis. Those who sustained a knee injury, for example, have a lifetime risk for osteoarthritis of 57 percent. Female soccer players have about a 40 percent chance of having osteoarthritis 12 years after suffering a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in their knee
Myth No. 6: My Job Doesn’t Involve Repetitive Motion, So I Won’t Get Osteoarthritis
It’s true that those who work in construction or on an assembly line may be more likely to get osteoarthritis, says White, but if your job involves sitting all day behind your desk
, you are also at risk. “It’s imperative to stretch and strengthen your muscles to keep your joints healthy,” she says. She recommends getting up, stretching, and walking around the block a few times a day. Also at increased risk are “weekend warriors” — those who spend all week at a desk and then exercise vigorously by playing tennis, skiing, or jogging on the weekend. These sudden bursts of activity can leave someone at greater risk for an injury, which can often lead to osteoarthritis.
Myth No. 7: My Parent Had Osteoarthritis, So I Will Get It Too
Though you are more likely to get osteoarthritis if one of your parents had it, especially if he or she had osteoarthritis of the knees, it’s not definite. “There’s a lot you can do to lower your arthritis risk, even if it runs in your family,” White says. If you take care of yourself by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight, you can reduce your risk. Women are more likely to inherit osteoarthritis risk, however, so if your mother had osteoarthritis of the knees, be especially careful to monitor your weight and fitness routine, and avoid exercises that involve a lot of jumping, which can lead to an injury.
Myth No. 8: Weather Can Cause Arthritis
A damp, rainy climate won’t make someone who is otherwise healthy get arthritis, but it can worsen arthritis pain in those who already have the condition. “When the barometric pressure drops, as it does when a storm is approaching, it does cause pain in the joints of those with osteoarthritis,” White says. Many people with arthritis claim they have less pain in a warm climate, but White debunks this myth too. “In cold weather, your muscles tense, which can make you think your arthritis is flaring up, but it doesn’t actually affect your joints.”
Myth No. 9: I Don’t Need to See a Doctor for Joint Pain
Many people with osteoarthritis think there’s nothing that can be done for the pain or that surgery is the only option. That’s not the case, says White. Osteoarthritis symptoms can be managed through a combination of exercise, weight loss, pain management techniques, alternative therapies, and nonprescription and prescription medications. “The goal of osteoarthritis treatment is to reduce pain and increase function,” she says. If you have consistent pain at a level that interferes with your daily life, and the pain lasts more than a week, it’s time to call your doctor.
Myth No. 10: Arthritis Is Inevitable as I Age
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Diseases, 20 percent of Americans — about 72 million people — will be 65 years or older and at high risk for osteoarthritis by 2030. “But there are plenty of people older than 100 who don’t have it,” says White. “There is so much you can do to prevent osteoarthritis,” she says. You can maintain a proper weight, exercise regularly, rest if you have an exercise-induced injury, and work with your doctor to prevent or treat the condition.