5 myths about osteoarthritis

Last modified: December 12, 2019

Is it necessary to have an x-ray if you have osteoarthritis? And isn’t it only the elderly who are affected? There are a number of osteoarthritis myths to dispel. 

Physical activity is better than resting if you have osteoarthritis

The first, very common misunderstanding is that you should refrain from physical activity. This is completely wrong and can actually cause the symptoms to get worse. When you are active, you strengthen the muscles around the joints. This increased strength helps the muscles absorb the load that would otherwise have been placed on the joint. This can lead to a reduction of pain, as well as increased function.

There is no “osteoarthritis cure” – but treatment is available!

It’s true that there is no medication that can cure osteoarthritis, but the idea that there isn’t any treatment for the disease is a myth. Exercising to strengthen the muscles and take load off the joints is the foundational treatment. This has been shown to be the most effective “medicine” for osteoarthritis. If it’s difficult to manage the exercises because of pain, pain-relieving medications can be taken for temporary relief. These drugs should belong to the NSAID-family. Stronger medications, such as opioids, are not recommended for chronic pain. If none of this works, in spite of trying it for a significant amount of time, surgery might be an option. However, this should only be seen as the last resort.

X-rays are not necessary for a diagnosis

You don’t need an x-ray to determine the diagnosis osteoarthritis. In general, the physician can diagnose the disease through an interview with the affected person to evaluate the pain, symptoms, and joint function. The diagnosis of osteoarthritis is therefore not determined based on x-ray results. Instead, it is made on the basis of the patient’s medical history and clinical findings. An x-ray is used for osteoarthritis if a person does not respond to the given treatment or in the case of pronounced symptoms to see if surgery might be needed.

The diagnosis can be set by a general physician or a physical therapist at the your local health center. If an additional assessment is needed, this can usually be obtained from an orthopedist.

Not just a disease for the elderly

The idea that osteoarthritis only affects the elderly is also a myth. The risk of developing osteoarthritis certainly increases with age, but young people can also be affected. The reason that the risk increases with age is that the joints are under strain for a longer time. Other factors, such as obesity, inactivity, heredity, and previous joint injuries also play a large role.

Read more about the risk factors.

You can become symptom-free!

Another misunderstanding is that nothing can be done about osteoarthritis other than prosthetic surgery. However, there are other treatment alternatives available! A physical therapist can help the patient understand the condition as well as assign suitable exercises. These are the two most important factors for treating osteoarthritis. Prosthetic surgery is only a last resort, and most of the people who develop osteoarthritis manage without it.

Read more about what osteoarthritis is.