8 Surprising Facts about Arthritis

8 Surprising Facts about Arthritis

8 Surprising Facts about Arthritis

Humans have walked the Earth for nearly six million years, so you can be sure arthritis isn’t anything new. Even our earliest ancestors suffered through their fair share of stiff, aching joints. The struggle to remain flexible and mobile can become more difficult as we age – and some form of joint disease is usually the culprit, especially arthritis.

All together, they affect about 60 million adults in the United States—making it the leading form of disability. Here are some interesting facts about arthritis that everyone needs to know.

1. There are over 100 types of arthritis
Despite popular belief, arthritis isn’t just one disease. “Arthritis” is a broad term that refers to more than 100 conditions that affect the joints (the place where bones connect). The most common types are:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of the disease in which tissue that protects the ends of bones breaks down.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of the disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack the lining of the joints.

The end results for both OA and RA are the same for the most part – stiff, painful joints.

2. Arthritis isn’t just for “older” people
People of all ages have arthritis. In fact, children as young as one year old can get arthritis, and about 60% of people who have arthritis are under 65leaving site icon That being said, the chance of getting arthritis does grow as you get older.

3. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the U.S.
According to the Arthritis Foundation leaving site icon nearly 60 million adults and 300,000 children in the U.S. have arthritis. Nearly half of them say normal physical activity is hard for them. The number of people with arthritis is expected to keep growing. By 2030, about 67 million people leaving site icon are expected to have arthritis!

4. Arthritis affects more women than men
Arthritis is more common in women than in men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leaving site icon (CDC) about 60% of the people with arthritis are women. With some types of arthritis, such as RA, the symptoms may even be worse for women. leaving site icon Doctors and researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but it could have something do with hormones.

5. Exercise is the best way (aside from medication) to reduce pain and improve movement for people with OA
Many people believe that working out with arthritis will do more harm than good. The opposite is actually true. The Arthritis Foundation says exercise is the best non-drug treatment for people with OA. It helps reduce pain and improve movement. Good exercises for people with OA include:

  • Walking/jogging
  • Swimming
  • Elliptical
  • Water exercises
  • Stretching

6. Cracking your knuckles doesn’t cause arthritis
Growing up, you were likely told not to crack or pop your knuckles and other joints because you could get arthritis. It turns out, it’s just an old wives’ taleleaving site icon Knuckle cracking isn’t harmful to your joints and doesn’t cause arthritis.

7. Gout is a type of arthritis
Gout isn’t on most people’s radar. We may remember reading about old overweight, kings afflicted with it because they ate and drank too much. In reality, it can be triggered by lifestyle, but it’s also linked to other risk factorsleaving site icon Family history, recent surgeries, traumas and other problems play a role. When there are high levels of uric acid in the blood, gout leads to painful swelling in the feet, ankles or knees.

8. You can lower your chance of getting arthritis
There are no sure-fire ways to prevent arthritis. Still, there are things you can do to reduce your risks, including:

  • Don’t have too much sugar and alcohol
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid sports injuries by wearing proper equipment and training
  • Stay a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke

Do you know any other interesting facts about arthritis? Share them in the comments.

Sources: Arthritis, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021; About Arthritis, leaving site icon Arthritis Foundation, 2022; The Gender Gap: How RA Differs in Women, leaving site icon WebMD, 2022; Will Joint Cracking Cause Arthritis, leaving site icon WebMD, 2020; Gout, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2021.

Originally published 10/21/2015; Revised 2017, 2023

Anonymous
  • I think of rheumatoid arthritis as an autoimmune disease (autoimmune arthritis) that affects more than joints (causes more systemic inflammation — it can attack internal organs too in the worst cases). It's pretty different from osteoarthritis and can leave one feeling fatigued with nearly constant 'flu-like symptoms, especially during flares. It's also associated with heart disease due to inflammation, IIRC. It can be hard to diagnose. Also:

    • The ratio of women to men with rheumatoid arthritis is 3:1

    • RA symptoms can improve during pregnancy but revert post-pregnancy

    • Lyme disease was thought to be juvenile RA until it became clear it was unlikely so many children would suddenly develop a relatively rare condition like juvenile RA

    • Even "light smoking" is associated with an elevated risk of developing RA — another reason to quit for those who smoke

    • Late-stage RA can result in several deformities, including ulnar drift and swan neck deformity, that aren't typical of osteoarthritis

    • Famous people with RA have included: Glenn Frey, Christiaan Barnard, Renoir, Kathleen Turner, James Coburn, etc.