Five myths about arthritis

The truth about diet, exercise and arthritis treatments...

Senior woman rubbing knuckles, cropped

What Arthritis is

Around 10 million people in the UK have arthritis - and it affects people of all ages, including children. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (affecting around 8 million people and mostly developing in adults in their late 40s or older) and rheumatoid arthritis. Despite it affecting so many people, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the condition...

See also: Seven foods to ease the pain of arthritis

See also: 10 natural ways to ease arthritis pain

1. Yes, you can and should exercise
Around 20% of people surveyed by Arthritis Research UK didn't know that being overweight was a major risk factors for osteoarthritis, or that exercise is an effective way to alleviate arthritis pain and improve mobility.

Many arthritis sufferers avoid exercise as they feel pain when they move, but inactivity can cause your joints to deteriorate. To protect your joints from damage, opt for low-impact activities, such as swimming, water aerobics, walking on a level surface, Tai Chi or yoga. You can buy special 'yoga for arthritis' DVDs from Amazon. Staying active has the benefit of helping you to maintain a healthy weight.

2. Yes, it can be treated
Many people wrongly think that arthritis can't be treated and don't see their doctor – yet getting the condition diagnosed early can make a huge different to the treatment options available – and can potentially prevent further pain.

There are many different kinds of arthritis – it could be gout, crystals, autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis, virus-caused arthritis or as many as 100 other kinds of the disease. Without seeing your doctor, you won't know what kind you have or how best to treat it.

Symptoms of arthritis include joint pain and swelling, joint stiffness, and grinding sensations in a joint. Don't dismiss the problem as a simple injury – although injuries are contributing factors to arthritis, it's important to see your GP, particularly if you've had the symptoms for a while or they are becoming more severe.

3. Yes, diet can make a difference
There is no food 'cure' for arthritis, but your diet and general health plays a big part in managing arthritis. Try to follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes olive oil, a limited amount of lean meats, pulses, fish, colourful vegetables and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Those with arthritis are more likely to have type 2 diabetes, heart disease or be obese, which makes diet especially important.

Again, the foods you choose will depend on the kind of arthritis you have. According to researchers from the University of East Anglia, sulforaphane (found in broccoli, and to a lesser extent cabbage and Brussels sprouts), blocks enzymes that cause joint damage associated with osteoarthritis.

For rheumatoid arthritis, it's best to eat an antioxidant-rich diet which helps reduce the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory types of the condition. In addition, antioxidants are known to support the immune system, which may be suppressed in those taking anti-inflammatory medication. Dark-coloured fruit – such as black grapes, blueberries, blackcurrants and prunes, are packed with antioxidants.

Research suggests that green tea may also have anti-inflammatory properties. A study from Case Western Reserve University in the US found that EGCG (a substance in green tea) may halt arthritis progression by blocking interleukin-1, a pro-inflammatory cell, from damaging cartilage.

4. No, glucosamine supplements won't rebuild your joints
Some studies have shown that supplementing the diet with glucosamine can help those who have joint discomfort, but they don't work for everyone. Glucosamine is a natural compound found in your joints and the cartilage around them - but it doesn't rebuild joints (you would need to have injected into the joint at your GP's office for that). Some people report pain relief in the short term, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn't restore your joints.

5. Cracking your knuckles will NOT cause arthritis
There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that cracking your knuckles and joints will give you arthritis in later life. As an experiment, Californian doctor Donald Unger cracked the knuckles of his left hand at least twice a day, leaving his right knuckles uncracked for 60 years. His conclusion? At the end, he reported "not the slightest sign" of arthritis in either hand.