Cracking 5 Arthritis Myths

“Stop cracking your knuckles, you’re going to give yourself arthritis!”

Chances are you’ve heard this before. It’s an old myth, but is it true? And what about the other myths you’ve heard about your joints, from weather, menopause, and more?

Today we’re covering the top five arthritis myths when it comes to your joints, starting with the most famous: cracking knuckles!


Cracking your knuckles (and other joints) will lead to arthritis: FALSE!

If you have an unbreakable habit of cracking your knuckles, good news: no studies have shown that it leads to arthritis.

For instance, one study evaluated 300 people, aged 45 and above, for a knuckle-cracking habit. The researchers were curious to see whether those who cracked their hand knuckles more frequently had a greater level of arthritis or general limitations of mobility or dysfunction. The knuckle crackers were likely to have increased swelling in their hands as well as less grip strength, but between the two groups, no differences were found in arthritis.

But what actually causes that quintessential cracking sound?

The jury was out until 2015, when a group of researchers studied finger cracking in an MRI. As they manually cracked finger joints, they found that a cavity forms when the joint is quickly moved, and when this cavity collapses, you hear a popping noise. This process is called tribonucleation!

Generally, it takes 20 or so minutes for the cavity to fully collapse after the initial cracking noise. Only once it collapses can it reform again! And once the cavity reforms, you can crack your knuckles yet again with the risk of annoying some folks around you, but without the risk of developing arthritis. If you are a knuckle-cracker, you may want to address underlying causes such as stress and find another way to relieve it – while it may not cause arthritis, it may drive the people around you bonkers.


The weather can affect my joint pain: TRUE and FALSE!

Anecdotally, you may have experienced that rain, cold weather, and thunderstorms irritate your joint pain or arthritis. When the weather changes, there is a drop in atmospheric pressure, which consequently alters the pressure in your joints. In your body, this may feel like increased tenderness and inflammation so yes, it can affect joint pain. 

However, although pressure changes do not cause arthritis, they may amplify issues that already exist. At this time, research has not been able to back the anecdotal experiences of joint pain.

One study from researchers at Harvard and Columbia looked at the frequency of doctor visits for joint-related conditions on days when it was raining versus not raining. They found no increase in doctor’s visits on rainy days for joint pain, providing evidence that perhaps weather doesn’t affect joint pain. That said, other factors should be taken into account, such as willingness to drive to the doctor on a rainy day, and you may also consider that even if someone has more joint pain during the rain, they may not find it necessary to visit the doctor.

More research is needed to understand the relationship between weather and joint pain – at this point, the jury is out!


Women are more likely to develop arthritis: TRUE!

For multiple reasons, many people believe women are more susceptible to arthritis. This may, in part, be due to the fact that women typically have looser ligaments which, in turn, can make women’s joints more relaxed as compared to men. It’s believed this difference may be due to sex hormones, though more research is needed to understand the exact hormonal mechanisms affecting joint health.

Other people may believe that menopause has harmful effects on joint health. In some ways, it can. During menopause, the body’s supply of estrogen drops substantially. Estrogen has a variety of functions throughout the body; one, in particular, is its ability to spur growth and maintain tissues throughout the body. When levels of estrogen decline in menopause, it may lead to disrepair in joints and development of arthritis.

That said, this doesn’t mean women are destined to develop joint issues; not all women do. Even more so, there are a variety of exercises and tools you can use to support your joints! Some menopausal women opt for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to boost their estrogen levels, while others may do more weight lifting exercises to strengthen their joints. Talk with your healthcare provider about specific recommendations for your joint health!

And, to fully address this myth: when considering the proportions of men and women with arthritis, there is a small but significant difference. The CDC has reported that about 25% of women will be diagnosed with arthritis in their lifetime, as compared to 20% of men. So yes, this myth may be true, but just barely!


All types of arthritis are basically the same: FALSE!

The CDC defines arthritis as the “inflammation or swelling of one or more joints.” It’s a broad term, and a myriad of conditions exist beneath it. Each is unique in how it arises and what it feels like.

When someone says they have arthritis, or, if you worry that you may, it’s good to understand which type, as each is so unique.

Often discussed is rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune disease where your body is mistakenly attacking healthy tissue in and near the joints. Individuals with a variety of autoimmune conditions – lupus, Lyme disease, and more – may experience RA-like symptoms.

Osteoarthritis generally arises due to degradation of joint cartilage, often with old age. Some call it “wear and tear” arthritis. It is the most common type of arthritis, and for many, it will lead to inflammation, pain, and difficulty with mobility.

Gout is actually another type of arthritis which occurs when one joint, typically the big toe joint, becomes inflamed due to an excess of uric acid in the body. This build-up can be due to a diet rich in alcohol, red meats, and seafood.

Other forms of arthritis include childhood arthritis as well as psoriatic arthritis, which typically occurs with psoriasis. Each is unique, and if you’re having joint pain, it’s important to talk with your doctor to see if it may be characterized under one of these forms of arthritis.


There’s not much I can do for my joint pain: FALSE!

If you’re struggling with joint pain, or if you’d like to better protect your joints, we’ve compiled a variety of tips to help regain mobility and maintain joint health in the blog here. Lifestyle changes can powerfully impact your joint health and decrease your joint pain!

Be sure to speak with your doctor as well if you’re experiencing joint pain and are looking for lasting solutions. As we’ve discussed, there are a variety of ways arthritis can arise, and it’s unique for everyone. Work with your healthcare provider to identify solutions right for you!

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