5 Knee Osteoarthritis Myths Debunked

Separate the facts from the fiction about this common joint disease.

group of people jogging

If you’re one of the more than 27 million Americans who have—or who worry about developing—osteoarthritis, chances are you’ve fallen prey to a myth or two about this degenerative joint disease. But separating fact from fiction is key to helping you make good choices when it comes to preventing or treating knee osteoarthritis.

Myth: Jogging causes knee osteoarthritis

Fact: If you love to run recreationally, but are worried about developing osteoarthritis, you can relax. Joggers who are otherwise healthy—in other words, those who are at a healthy weight and have not suffered traumatic knee injuries—are actually no more likely to have osteoarthritis of the knee than people who don’t run. In fact, running may actually condition the cartilage in the knee to withstand the stress involved. Meanwhile, loss of strength in the muscles that support the knee is associated with increased pain and disability. This muscle weakness could even hasten the rate at which knee osteoarthritis progresses. Since running helps strengthen the muscles supporting the knees, your jogging routine may help stave off pain and stiffness. If you have any concerns about your knee health, check with your doctor before starting a running program, and when you do, make sure you observe proper running form and select appropriate shoes that fit properly.

Myth: Knee osteoarthritis affects men and women equally

Fact: Women, especially those older than age 55, are more likely to have knee osteoarthritis than men. Women are also more likely to have more severe disease (but, interestingly, this severity does not hold true for arthritis in other joints). Roughly 13 percent of women age 60 and older, compared to 10 percent of men, have symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. Younger women who are obese are also at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee.

Myth: You can't prevent knee osteoarthritis. It’s an inevitable part of aging.

Fact: Many risk factors for knee osteoarthritis are at least partly within your control. Being overweight, for example, increases pressure on your knee joints. Losing weight however, eases this pressure and can lower your risk for the condition. In fact, for each pound of body weight you lose, the stress on your knee joints is reduced by four pounds.

Being physically active keeps your bones and muscles healthy, which can also help prevent the development of knee osteoarthritis. Avoiding certain activities—such as prolonged squatting or kneeling and repetitive motions—can also reduce your risk for osteoarthritis.

That said, it’s true that you can’t change some risk factors for osteoarthritis of the knee. The incidence of osteoarthritis does increase with age and having a family history also raises your risk.

Myth: If you have knee pain, it must be osteoarthritis

Fact: Osteoarthritis of the knee is certainly a common cause of knee pain, but it’s only one of more than 100 types of arthritis. Many other types can also affect the knee joint, which makes it important to get an accurate diagnosis. The treatment for osteoarthritis, for example, is very different from the treatment for gout or rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disease.

Your knee is also prone to injury. Many athletes twist or push the knee joint beyond its intended range of motion. A car accident or other sudden trauma can also cause acute knee pain. Bursitis and tendinitis, two other inflammatory conditions, can also result in knee pain. Your doctor can identify the true cause of your knee pain and make sure you receive the appropriate treatment.

Myth: If you have osteoarthritis, you’ll need surgery.

Fact: Maybe you will, but maybe you won’t. Patients with advanced osteoarthritis who don’t respond to other types of treatment usually get significant relief and improved quality of life after knee replacement surgery. However, most people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis find that a combination of medication, lifestyle changes and other therapies are enough to manage their disease. For example, physical therapy and regular exercise can help you strengthen the muscles around the knee joint and improve your range of motion. If your knee osteoarthritis is severely disabling, talk to your doctor about whether knee replacement surgery is right for you.

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