5 Myths About Osteoarthritis


Shervin Oskouei, MD

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A Way to Reduce Knee Pain

If pain relievers aren't enough, it might be time for a different treatment.
Shervin Oskouei, MD

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting nearly 27 million Americans ages 25 and older. Each day, about 40 to 50 people suffering from osteoarthritis will visit my office, and many of them are confused about what they’ve heard about the disease.

Here are some of the myths I debunk daily for my patients.

Myth #1: If one of your parents has osteoarthritis, you will definitely get it

You are more likely to get osteoarthritis if one of your parents has it, particularly if they have it in the knees. Women are more likely to inherit it than men. However, genes aren’t a perfect predictor. There’s a lot you can do to lower your risk of developing osteoarthritis, even if it runs in your family. If you live a healthy lifestyle, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight, you can reduce your risk.

Dr. Shervin Oskouei says that if your pain is preventing you from doing everyday tasks, it's time to seek treatment.

Medical Reviewer: Robert Williams, MD Last Review Date: Apr 7, 2013

Myth #2: Diet and exercise have nothing to do with osteoarthritis

Actually, diet and exercise have a LOT to do with preventing osteoarthritis and lessening the pain it causes. With every pound you gain, you add four pounds of pressure to your knees. Being overweight increases your risk of developing osteoarthritis and speeds the rate at which the condition will develop. It’s very important to maintain a healthy weight. In fact, two out of three people who are obese will develop osteoarthritis. People with osteoarthritis can stay active and lessen their pain with low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, cycling, and yoga. These exercises help keep the muscles around your joint strong, and they involve stretching, so you’re able to maintain a full range of motion.

Myth #3: A doctor can’t help me with knee pain if I don’t want surgery

It’s true that there is no cure for osteoarthritis, but surgery isn’t the only option. In fact, about 40 percent of seniors have osteoarthritis of the hip or knee, but only about 5 percent will undergo replacement surgery. You can manage osteoarthritis symptoms through a combination of exercise, weight loss, pain management techniques, alternative therapies, and nonprescription and prescription medications. Some improvement in pain and function is possible in almost everyone with osteoarthritis.

Myth #4: Osteoarthritis happens to everyone when they age

Osteoarthritis is not a normal part of the aging process, but the risk of developing it does increase with age. There are plenty of elderly people who don’t have osteoarthritis, and there’s a lot you can do to prevent it from developing. You can lower your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and resting any exercise-induced injuries.

Myth #5: Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the same thing

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type. It’s also known as degenerative joint disease or “wear-and-tear” arthritis, because it’s caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage. Osteoarthritis is mostly a consequence of aging, because as we age, the water content of our cartilage increases while the protein composition of our cartilage degenerates. Osteoarthritis can also be caused by the overuse of joints, and by obesity, among other contributors.

Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is a chronic, inflammatory type of arthritis. It’s an autoimmune disease that involves multiple joints. Researchers are still working to determine the cause of the abnormal autoimmune response. Common theories point to a genetic predisposition and a triggering event.

Osteoarthritis is a difficult problem to deal with, but with education and encouragement, patients can feel empowered to improve their daily lives.

Shervin V. Oskouei, MD, assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Director of Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program at Emory University, is an expert in the treatment of musculoskeletal (extremity) tumors, total hip and total knee replacements, and revisions. He also heads The Emory Musculoskeletal Oncology and Limb Reconstruction Center. This is a world-class center treating a variety of conditions, including benign and malignant tumors of the extremities and spine.

Medical Reviewers: Williams, Robert, MD Last Review Date: Apr 4, 2013

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