Bethany Aitken, Clinical Services Manager for MSK

7 common myths about arthritis explained


30 November 2023

Arthritis affects around 10 million of people in the UK, impacting people of all ages, including children1. There are many different types of arthritis, a term referring to joint pain or disease, with common symptoms including pain, swelling and restricted movements in the affected joints.

With so many people living with arthritis, it’s perhaps no surprise that many misconceptions about treatment and prevention have cropped up. From cold weather aggravating arthritis to chilli peppers helping with the pain, there are some interesting and ingenious theories.

Bethany Aitken, clinical services manager for MSK at AXA Health, looks at seven of the most common myths about the condition to help you to separate fact from fiction.

Myth: I have arthritis and there’s nothing I can do about it


While there is no cure yet for osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis that occurs when the cartilage that protects the end of your bones breaks down, there are some simple ways to reduce pain and improve mobility. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including exercising, being a healthy weight and having a good diet
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are painkillers that work by reducing inflammation. You should consult your doctor to discuss the type of NSAID you should take, and the benefits and risks that might be associated2. Joint supports, such as splints, insoles3 in your shoes or leg braces
  • Hydrotherapy has been shown to help those with arthritis to manage their pain4.

Read our article on Osteoarthritis for more information.

Rheumatoid arthritis 

Rheumatoid arthritis is less common than osteoarthritis, and typically starts when somebody is between 30 – 50 years old. 

This form of arthritis is where your immune system affects the cells in your joints, and treatment options are very different to those used to treat osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis treatments can help reduce inflammation in the joint as well as slow down any damage to the joint and are designed to enable you to stay as active as possible.

Treatment options include:

  • Supportive treatments, such as physiotherapy, may help someone with rheumatoid arthritis to build strength and mobility in the affected joints. A physiotherapist can tailor recommended movements and exercises to individual needs, to allow them to increase their mobility and manage any pain. 
  • Steroids, prescribed via tablet, or injection into the joint itself or surrounding muscles, are used to manage pain as well as reduce inflammation and stiffness5
  • Hydrotherapy involves movements or exercises carried out in warm water, these movements are generally more focused on slow, controlled movements and relaxation. The water supports the persons bodyweight, allowing them to focus on the movement with reduced strain on the joints. 
  • Modified Tai Chi and Yoga are gentle forms of exercise that allow you to increase the range of motion and strength in your joints, without the load bearing that other forms of exercise put on our bodies, such as weightlifting or running. You should consult a health professional or physiotherapist to understand what activities and exercises would suit you and your requirements best.

Read our article on Rheumatoid arthritis for more information.

Myth: Damp, cold weather affects my joint pain

Many people are convinced that damp, cold weather can worsen symptoms of arthritis. Though research on this subject is limited, it’s  important to consider that everyone’s experience with pain and symptoms is unique. If you find that your symptoms worsen when the weather is cold and damp, there are things that you can do to help. 

These measures might include:

  • Keeping warm at home: the NHS recommends that you heat your home to at least 18°C if possible6
  • Getting enough vitamin D: our bodies produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight outdoors, which is of course made difficult during the cold winter months in the UK. Vitamin D is important for maintaining healthy bones, so it may be worth considering other sources of vitamin D if you find that your arthritis symptoms are worsened in the winter months. Other sources of vitamin D include certain foods, such as oily fish, egg yolks, red meat, though supplements could also be considered based on individual diets. The NHS recommends that everyone should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during autumn and winter7.

Myth: Chillies help my joint pain

Amazingly, this is true. Capsaicin, a medicinally active component of chillies, is licensed in the UK for osteoarthritis8.

Capsaicin is available on prescription in the form of gels, creams and plasters. It is usually used to treat osteoarthritis in your hands or knees. It mainly works by blocking the nerves in the affected area sending pain signals to your brain.

It can take a while for you to feel the effects of capsaicin cream – it’s usually around two weeks before you start to see a difference and around a month until you get the full relief.

Myth: Hobbies such as knitting and gardening make my arthritis worse

Keeping up interests and hobbies is a great way to maintain self-esteem and confidence, which can be critical to help you live with arthritis pain.

No scientific research exists to suggest knitting or gardening make arthritis worse. If either increases your pain, then it might be worth adapting the activity to avoid straining particular joints. You can make many modifications to your gardening, for example, long handled tools, such as trowels, can help you avoid bending too much, as can planting in high containers rather than at ground level.

Myth: I can’t wear high heels if I have arthritis

It’s true that high heels can aggravate your arthritis as they place more pressure on your foot, ankle and knee joints . That said, if you really wanted to wear high heels for an important occasion and you were willing to deal with the potential increase in your symptoms or pain, there is no evidence to suggest that you will make the condition worse long term. 

Myth: I have arthritis so my children will get it

Most forms of arthritis are not totally down to genetics – it’s more likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors that put you at risk.

For example, family history may play some role in osteoarthritis, but studies haven’t yet found which gene causes this. Likewise, though research on the role of genetics with rheumatoid arthritis is limited, there is some research to suggest that this form of arthritis can run in families. This being said, it’s likely that the risk of inheriting the condition is low as genes are only thought to play a small role in the condition9.

If you have arthritis as a consequence of a condition, such as Stickler syndrome, then it may be that the condition could be inherited. 

Myth: Exercise will make my arthritis worse 

If your arthritis is painful, it’s understandable that you might not want to exercise. Regular activity, however, especially when dealing with osteoarthritis, is often prescribed as a way to manage the condition. It can help by:

  • Building muscle
  • Strengthening the joints
  • Reducing pain and stiffness
  • Improving joint mobility
  • Giving your mood and energy a boost
  • Keeping your weight at a healthy level to reduce pressure on your joints
  • Improving posture

The important thing is that you do the right type of exercise. Low-impact exercise, such as swimming and walking, are good options. Your physiotherapist should be able to advise you on the types and amount of exercise that will suit you. 

Exercising with Rheumatoid arthritis requires an individually tailored approach, so it is important to speak to a health professional in order for them to prescribe appropriate activities, or refer you to a Physiotherapist who would work closely with a Rheumatologist to design exercises for you and your needs. 

Further Reading

Being active with arthritis - AXA Health

Boost your bone health - AXA Health


  1. Arthritis - NHS
  2. NSAIDs - NHS
  3. Orthotic inserts for Arthritis – Arthritis Foundation
  4. Hydrotherapy – Arthritis foundation
  5. Steroids for rheumatoid arthritis - NHS
  6. Heating recommendations - NHS
  7. Vitamin D - NHS
  8. Capsaicin for arthritis – Versus Arthritis
  9. Rheumatoid arthritis and genetics - NHS

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