While living with achy joints can feel like a distinctly personal problem, the CDC reports that the number of Americans suffering from joint pain is actually on the rise. Unfortunately, that number is only expected to increase. But when it comes to separating myth from fact, many sufferers aren’t sure where to draw the line. Whether your joint pain is the result of a knee injury earlier in life or simply the byproduct of daily “wear and tear,” the first step to a more comfortable and active lifestyle is becoming informed. Here, we’ve dispelled some common myths about joint pain and its potential treatments—so you can identify the course of action that will work for you.
1. Myth: Individuals with knee pain should decrease their physical activity, since this places added pressure on joints and can exacerbate the issue.
Fact: An active lifestyle with plenty of exercise is actually best for all bodies—including those that are experiencing knee pain. Knee pain sufferers are often at increased risk of not getting enough movement in their daily lives due to their aches and pains, but decreased mobility can actually cause greater joint issues later on. Individuals experiencing joint pain should opt for types of movement that don’t require repeated impact on the joints—swimming, for instance, can be an excellent option, as would riding a stationary bike or practicing yoga. Even assisted movement, like physical therapy or massage, can help.
Many patients report pain relief and less stiffness when they get a massage or acupuncture treatment, or when they do yoga or tai chi. The more you move, the more likely you are to maintain your current range of motion, knee pain or not—and exercise is key in helping maintain an ideal weight, which is integral to joint health as well.
2. Myth: Knee pain is always the result of an earlier injury, whether from sports (such as runner’s knee), blunt trauma, or repetitive strain.
Fact: Some types of joint pain are actually precipitated by genetic diseases which have caused an accelerated breakdown in cartilage in the body. Many forms of joint pain are caused by the conditions above—and it can be helpful to determine which one has occurred in your particular case, in order to ascertain the best course of treatment.
The most common culprit for joint pain is actually chronic degenerative joint disease, also commonly referred to as “wear and tear arthritis,” which is simply the natural erosion of cartilage over the course of one’s life. Alternately, some associated illnesses can cause joint pain flare-ups.
You may be experiencing acute, temporary arthritis as a related symptom of another underlying disease or condition, such as a viral infection, a strep infection, Lyme disease, or Gout. In these cases, treating the underlying condition is key—one more reason not to delay in seeking a professional diagnosis. Furthermore, sometimes the joint itself isn’t the primary problem. It’s also possible that you have a condition that technically exists outside of the joint, but causes pain in or around the joint. Conditions that match this description include Osteoporosis and Fibromyalgia, or even Bursitis and Tendonitis, which are often caused by injury. Isolating the cause of the pain can be an important first step in any treatment plan.
3. Myth: One all-natural treatment for alleviating knee pain is through diet, by consuming foods such as rum-soaked raisins.
Fact: There’s no foodie fix for knee pain. But how you eat may certainly have an impact on your degree of pain. According to a 2018 study, reducing your body weight by just five percent can reduce pain and increase mobility in those struggling with knee issues, while dropping ten percent of a patient’s body weight can actually slow the progression of arthritic conditions including knee pain. (Of course, it’s always a good idea to discuss any significant weight changes you may be considering with your healthcare provider.) When a physician assesses an arthritic joint, the first set of treatment recommendations that they will usually make involve various lifestyle changes. This could mean asking the patient to lose weight.
In addition, while there’s no magic food that can alleviate knee pain, there are some circumstances in which diet can actually be blamed for the condition. Reactive Arthritis is a form of joint inflammation caused by bacterial infections in the body—including some foodborne bacteria such as Salmonella, which is commonly passed by ingesting raw or undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs. So while diet traditionally does not influence joint pain, there are occasional situations where the two are linked.
4. Myth: In cases where knee pain is caused by cartilage deterioration, total knee replacement is the only option as there is no way to restore or strengthen cartilage.
Fact: The Cartilage Restoration Institute at Rothman Orthopaedics has had success developing new approaches to strengthening and rebuilding cartilage, working with organic matter in lieu of traditional artificial materials. In some cases, a treatment called Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI) can be used to harvest healthy cartilage cells from a non-weight-bearing area, and then implant them into the damaged area to restore mobility and knee function. As a non-surgical option, glucosamine supplements can sometimes be used to stimulate the regrowth of cartilage in patients who have osteoarthritis. “Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are compounds found naturally in the human body which contribute to the framework of cartilage,” explains Senior Vice President of Clinical Affairs at the Rothman Orthopaedic Joseph A. Abboud, M.D. “The use of oral glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate has been shown in studies to cause mild to moderate improvement in patients’ osteoarthritis symptoms by possibly decreasing inflammation.” While the full extent of relief offered by this treatment is still under review, those wishing for a non-invasive first option may wish to try a regimen of these supplements.
Whether you’ve already been diagnosed with the source of your knee pain or you’re just beginning to research its possible causes, separating fact from fiction is essential in finding the correct treatment to maintain your ease of movement and alleviate pain. For more information, the Rothman Orthopaedics’ Joint Pain Series is an extensive resource of detailed explanations, expert insight, and potential treatment options to help you get back to your most mobile life.