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8 Myths About Arthritis People Somehow Still Believe

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When many people hear the word “arthritis,” they tend to associate it with the pain and stiffness many elderly people experience in their joints. But arthritis is much more complex; in fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, the term is actually an umbrella for any type of joint pain or joint disease, and includes over 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. These can be divided into several categories based on the cause: degenerative arthritis (e.g. osteoarthritis), inflammatory arthritis (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis), infectious arthritis and metabolic arthritis. Because each type is caused by different factors, symptoms and treatment may vary widely among individuals with arthritis.

Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the United States, affecting approximately 50 million Americans. Yet despite its prevalence, many people still don’t understand the reality of the different types of arthritis and what it’s like to live with them – and this lack of understanding can unfortunately give way to misconceptions or assumptions that are not just inaccurate, but hurtful. Living with a lifelong disease can already be incredibly difficult to manage. But add on the stigmas and misunderstandings surrounding the condition, and navigating life with arthritis can become even tougher.

We wanted to correct some of the misconceptions surrounding arthritis, so we asked our Mighty community to share the “myths” they’ve heard that make it even harder to live with the condition. Breaking down these stigmas is not only an important part of promoting general understanding and awareness, but could eventually lead to more research and better treatment options for those with various forms of arthritis.

Myth #1: Arthritis only affects older people.

[People think] my daughter is too young for arthritis… kids get arthritis too!” – Courtney L.

Children can have it and grow up with it too! Been asked all my life, ‘what have you done?’ Nothing! I was born with a horrible disease!” – Jessica L.

That I’m too young to have it – I’m currently just diagnosed and at the average age for diagnosis of autoimmune arthritis. Also, that because I’m so young it must not be bad.” – Leslie A.M.L.

Reality: Arthritis does not discriminate and can affect people of any age, sex or race. This misconception may arise from the fact that degenerative arthritis (a result of “wear and tear”) is the most common type, and arthritis does occur more frequently as people get older. However, other types, such as inflammatory arthritis (which includes juvenile idiopathic arthritis), can and do affect people of any age. There are over 300,000 children in the United States who currently live with arthritis.

Myth #2: If the effects of your arthritis aren’t visible, it must not be “that bad.”

“[My daughter’s] body is attacking itself on the inside and just because she ‘looks fine’ doesn’t mean she’s not in pain.” – Courtney L.

That you only get arthritis when you’re old, and that it’s only painful if it’s visible.” – Kylee L.

Reality: Some types of arthritis may produce visible signs such as swelling, decreased range of motion or permanent joint changes. But others may not cause any obvious symptoms – or perhaps subtle ones that could be covered by clothing, or easily missed by a quick glance. Regardless of how “visible” a person’s arthritis may be, their symptoms deserve to be taken seriously. The way a person looks doesn’t always reflect how they feel.

Myth #3: Arthritis only causes joint pain.

I find the misconception about the presence of symptoms outside of joint pain difficult. The sluggishness, the brain fog, the fatigue. It’s all so overlooked, even by medical professionals. What seems like a fight for me is a simple daily task for someone that is feeling well. How could someone without RA ever understand that? The invisible battle and fatigue is isolating.” – Tricia M.

[A myth is] RA is not just ‘aches and pains.’ Your body is literally attacking itself and it causes so many issues.” – Kel W.

[People think] you have to be old to have it, and that it only affects the joints. If joint pain was the only thing we dealt with, we’d wonder if we were having a ‘good’ day.” – Misty A.

It’s more than joints. It’s excruciating pain felt throughout the body. Rheumatoid has other effects than just the joints: brain fog, fatigue, migraines.” – Micah M.

Reality: Though the term “arthritis” does refer to joint pain, or joint disease, the symptoms and side effects can be far-reaching. Some types of arthritis may also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin, and living with a chronic, incurable condition can certainly have a mental and emotional impact as well.

Myth #4: There is only one type of arthritis.

All arthritis is not the same. There are many different kinds with different symptoms.” – Megan G.B.

There are many, many forms of arthritis and not just the wear and tear osteoarthritis.” – Jill C.

My biggest pet peeve is that RA gets bunched together [with] osteoarthritis. To me that is comparing apples to oranges.” – Amanda B.R.

Reality: There are over 100 different types of arthritis that are caused by different factors and produce different symptoms. It’s important to distinguish between the various types so individuals may receive proper medication/treatment and be better understood by friends, family and medical professionals.

Myth #5: Arthritis medications are “bad for you.”

“It upsets me when people say that the drugs are too hardcore for me to take, but if I do not take my meds it will lead to further destruction of joints and it’s hurtful to hear that.” – Heidi M.H.

Reality: If an individual is taking medication, they are most likely doing so after having multiple in-depth discussions with their doctor(s) about what the best course of treatment is for them based on their unique type of arthritis and how it affects them. Some medications may be necessary for relieving symptoms or slowing progression of the disease, and it is up to the patient and their doctor to weigh these benefits against any potential risks and make an informed decision about which treatments to pursue.

Myth #6: You can’t have arthritis if you’re active.

If you’re young and active, you must not suffer from pain. Some of us cope with the sadness and stress of rheumatoid arthritis by trying to stay active. If we appear to be a healthy person it doesn’t mean we aren’t silently struggling with devastating symptoms. (I have systemic lupus, RA and demyelinating polyneuropathy but I hear that I ‘look OK’ when I actually struggle daily.)” – Aussie-Sara R.

“Just because I play soccer doesn’t mean I don’t have it. I play with restrictions. Such as time limits, joints taped in place and braces to allow me to play.” – Skylar R.

Reality: Arthritis can certainly restrict movement of joints and impose limitations on how much physical activity a person can do. However, if a person with arthritis is active, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re “faking” or that the type of arthritis they have “isn’t that bad.” There are different types, and they each affect people in different ways.

Myth #7: All arthritis can be treated the same way.

That all arthritis is the same and is treated the same way. I’ve had to educate many friends about how that supplement that has made their knee, which is mildly afflicted with osteoarthritis, almost pain-free will not stop my body from attacking itself. Going off traditional medication will never be an option for me. It keeps my disease from progressing.” – Stacie B.

Reality: Since there are different types of arthritis that are caused by different factors, treatment for individuals with arthritis may vary widely. For instance, a person who has degenerative “wear and tear” arthritis will likely require different medications and treatment than a person who has inflammatory or autoimmune arthritis.

Myth #8: Anyone with joint pain, an injury, etc. can perfectly understand what it’s like to live with all the different types of arthritis.

Saying you can relate to my RA. Unless you have RA, then you can’t relate. Thanks though.” – Marcee H.

I agree people don’t understand arthritis unless they have it. They don’t understand how our bodies feel inside and out. Fatigue, memory fog, depression because you can’t do what you used to be able to do. Don’t pity us, but understand our disease. Know your limits, don’t push yourself too far. If you do, you’ll be in bed for days recovering.” – Bridgette S.S.

Reality: Each type of arthritis is unique, and it’s nearly impossible to understand what it’s like to live with a particular type unless you have it yourself. Even if there are commonalities between the pain, injury or type of arthritis you have, and the type of arthritis another person has, it doesn’t necessarily mean your experiences are the same, and you can 100 percent relate to what the other person has lived through. Instead of comparing conditions, try just being a listening, supportive ear – your friend or loved one may appreciate it more than you know.

Originally published: October 17, 2018
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