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Did you know osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two very different conditions?

The belief that all forms of arthritis are generally the same is a common misconception.  Different forms of arthritis have different implications, causes, and even symptoms. 

For instance, osteoarthritis (often considered “regular arthritis”) is very different from rheumatoid arthritis.  Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint pain due to an injury or the natural wear-and-tear on a joint over the years.  Because this condition is so common, misunderstandings often develop regarding other arthritic conditions.

Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, occurs when the body produces antibodies that begin to attack its own tissue.  These attacks can occur periodically or continuously.  Rheumatoid arthritis primarily causes joint pain but also causes pain in other parts of the body.

The following is an overview of some other common myths about arthritis:

Myth 1: Arthritis is not a serious health condition.

Arthritis goes beyond having a few aches and pains.  While some people may experience occasional discomfort from arthritis, others may be on their way to damaged joints and disability if their arthritis is left untreated. 

Some forms of arthritis last a short time but are very painful.  Other forms of arthritis are chronic but slowly destroy the affected joint.

Because arthritis is a serious health condition, you should contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

--joint swelling, stiffness or pain

--warmth or redness in the joint

--tenderness or pain when touching the joint

--problems with joint mobility

Myth 2: If you have arthritis, you should avoid exercise.

It is understandable that people are tempted to avoid physical activity if they are in pain; however, people with arthritis must not allow their joints to grow weak.  Healthy joints must be stretched and used to keep the muscles around the joints strong.  These muscles are vital to improving joint stability as well.  A vicious cycle begins when the joints are not used regularly.  The muscles around the joints grow weak, and weak muscles equal weak joints.  Through physical activity, arthritic joints become stronger, resulting in overall improved mobility.

Here are several exercise tips for those who live with arthritis:

--stretching exercises: These help decrease stiffness and improves joint mobility.

--low-impact aerobic exercise: These promote joint strength and improve overall physical health. Examples of low-impact aerobics are walking and swimming.

--high-impact exercise: People with arthritis will want to avoid these types of activities, such as jumping or jogging, which can add to their joint problems.

People with arthritis should always check with their physician before they begin a new exercise regimen. 

Myth 3: Arthritis is only a concern for older individuals.

Although arthritis certainly is more common in older people, it can affect people of all ages—even children.  According to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly 300,000 children are affected by this disease.  While rheumatoid arthritis primarily begins in people between the ages of 30 and 55, it is progressive and, therefore, more severe in the elderly. 

Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is much more common in middle-aged and older adults; however, it can also occur in younger adults, sometimes as a result of an underlying condition.

Myth 4: Because of the side effects, treatment for rheumatoid arthritis should be delayed.

While it is true that some of the medications used for treating rheumatoid arthritis may cause side effects, these are rarely as bad as the actual disease.  Because rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease, early treatment is absolutely necessary.  In some cases, early treatment may actually prevent full-blown rheumatoid arthritis.  To help prevent disability, treatment should begin as soon as a person is diagnosed.  Most side effects can be detected through routine doctor visits and blood tests.

Myth 5: Arthritis is just a part of aging we must learn to live with. 

Fortunately, an arthritis diagnosis isn't an automatic sentence to a life of pain.  Even people who have severe arthritis can find relief in the wonderful advancements made in recent years. 

"Never assume that arthritis is just a natural part of aging that you must live with," said James Davidson, MD, a Monroe Clinic rheumatologist. "If you are suffering from arthritis or have any arthritic symptoms, do not delay in contacting your healthcare provider and developing a treatment plan to decrease your pain, increase mobility, and prevent further joint damage."