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Can cracking your knuckles give you arthritis ?

Don’t go to bed with your hair wet… you’ll get arthritis in your neck.”

That’s just one of the many myths surrounding arthritis, a condition that affects ten million people in the UK today.

Another? The one you were doubtless warned of as a kid – that cracking your knuckles could cause it. The truth is there is no evidence to support Granny’s theory.

Several studies have in fact put the old wives’ tale to bed – including one by Dr Donald Unger, who cracked only his left hand knuckles every day for 56 years, never developing arthritis, but who received the Ig Nobel Prize for his efforts.

Another study simply visited 28 nursing homes and asked the residents with and without arthritis whether they had regularly cracked their knuckles, and again found no link.

New York-based rheumatologist Yusuf Yazici said: “I think this one started when older people with osteoarthritis heard kids cracking their knuckles.

“Since people with osteoarthritis tend to make the same grinding or cracking noise when they move the joints in their fingers and knees, they assumed kids would get it down the road.”

So what else do you think you know about arthritis, but don’t? World Arthritis Day (October 12) aims to raise awareness of the facts and fiction that surround the disease.

Among the misconceptions event organisers Arthritis and Rheumatism International are keen to dash is that ‘arthritis’ is just a handy term to describe the general aches and pains that afflict only the elderly.

In fact, in the UK, 12,000 sufferers are children and 27,000 are under 25, while for those who develop one of the more common forms of the disease, rheumatoid arthritis, it can start as young as 30.

Meanwhile, ‘arthritis’ is actually an umbrella term, meaning ‘inflammation of a joint’, which covers more than 200 different types of the condition.

As well as rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disorder that can even affect the body’s internal organs, another common type is osteoarthritis, the degenerative form of arthritis that more frequently affects older women.

Other types include gout and fibromyalgia, while some strains of arthritis can develop years after a sporting injury has affected a joint.

While there is no actual cure, there are certain steps people can take to improve the condition, alongside the medications such as anti-inflammatories and steroids that GPs will prescribe.

One of these is keeping active, as this year’s World Arthritis Day also aims to stress with a ‘Move to Improve’ campaign. The website notes: “A common factor for most people with arthritis is the pain it can cause and this can be a major reason why people are put off exercising, but regular and appropriate exercise can have enormous benefits for people with arthritis.”

What type of exercise is best depends on the type of arthritis you have and patients should always consult their doctors first. But, generally, any sort of physical activity is beneficial, even playing with children, doing housework, walking the dog or gardening.

Daily stretching exercises, muscle strengthening work two or three times a week and aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week can dramatically help sufferers.

Movement can improve muscle strength and endurance, increase flexibility, assist with coordination and balance, and improve bone mineralization, which can help prevent osteoporosis, another type of arthritis.

However, that doesn’t mean pushing your body to its limit – those with arthritis should take it easier during flare-ups, when joints are more painful than usual or when they are particularly tired. Relaxation is equally important, with some finding aromatherapy massage can help.

There is also growing evidence that a Mediterranean diet is good for arthritis, which means moderate consumption of lean meat, ‘good’ fats found in olive oil, fish and nuts, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, some research suggests orange and yellow veg and those from the broccoli and cabbage family are effective at protecting joints.

More information

For further information on arthritis visit www.arthritisresearchuk.org

Photo by: Photo Rack