03/08/2011 04:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Three Things You Don't Know About Arthritis

Arthritis, in all of its forms, affects millions of Americans. Chances are, many of you come in contact with the disease in some form every day. Despite this, the lack of knowledge that exists about an illness that affects so many is shocking. Many of my regular readers know I suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis myself, so I can speak from experience -- the amount of disinformation I come across on a daily basis still surprises me after so many years. Well, I'm here to dispel some of the more common myths.

As you can imagine, being afflicted since the tender age of nine has provided me the opportunity to educate myself about my condition many times over. When I was first diagnosed with a disease called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, there was little to no information available. Keep in mind, 25 years ago there was no such thing as WebMD, and the Internet was still a private network. Discerning the difference between fact and fiction was a difficult task, but there are several misconceptions that stand the test of time.

First and foremost there is the "age" myth. This one falsehood alone accounts for the majority of times I have said "actually, that's not true." In speaking with others who suffer from different forms of Arthritis, I can say that the question of age remains the number one misunderstood fact about the disease. Arthritis can affect anyone at any age. The statistics maintain that a greater number of cases do occur from age 30 on, but there are still children born with Rheumatoid Arthritis every day.

Why is this myth so prevalent? Mainly because the public at large is ignorant of the many different forms of the disease. We have all seen the stereotypical elderly woman who can't use her knitting needles because her "arthritis" is acting up. This image has so thoroughly permeated our social psyche that the "old knitting woman" instantly comes to mind with any mention of arthritis.

The truth is that most elderly patients who have been suffering from a sore joint or two for a few years, are likely candidates for Osteoarthritis. This is the form of the disease that results from age-deteriorated and overused joints. Retired baseball pitchers sometimes suffer from Osteoarthritis in their pitching arm shoulder. On the other hand, Juvenile and adult Rheumatoid Arthritis do not result from joint use or age deterioration. Rheumatoid Arthritis in all its forms is an autoimmune disease. In layman's terms, the body is attacking its own joints for reasons that remain partially unknown today.

Rheumatologic diseases affected over 290,000 children in the U.S. as of 2007, and Juvenile Arthritis is said to be one of the most common childhood diseases in America. Today, there are numerous forms of J.A., and it can range from a mild ache in one joint on an intermittent basis, to crippling pain in most of the joints at all times. The range of severity of the illness is part of the reason it is so difficult to diagnose, and why it can be mistaken for other illnesses, such as Lyme Disease. This only adds to the misinformation surrounding the entire class of Juvenile Arthritis diseases. In addition, children who reach the age of 17 who remain afflicted are usually re-classified as having adult Rheumatoid Arthritis, which tends to keep the number of J.R.A. patients somewhat steady. Contrary to most information, not all children who suffer from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis grow out of it, myself being a case in point.

We've all seen someone who constantly cracks his or her knuckles (or other joints), and someone invariably tells that person if they keep up the "cracking," they will end up with Arthritis. It may serve to stop the person in question from engaging in that annoying cracking, but what it won't do is give them Arthritis. The "cracking" of joints is not helpful or harmful, according to most information. The cracking sound is just nitrogen gas being pulled into the joint when negative pressure is created with the "cracking" motion. Any activity that affects the body can be harmful if repeated ad nauseam, but this particular activity won't cause arthritis.

Here's something else you might not be aware of -- there is no definitive, conclusive, link proven between diet and arthritis. Surprised? I was. When I first began to research the numerous diets available that claim to help all forms of arthritis, I was overwhelmed. No nightshade vegetables, eating gin-soaked raisins, no wheat or gluten, taking glucosamine, no artificial colors or flavors, the vegetarian diet -- the list goes on and on.

Regularly, someone claims that his or her diet is the next undiscovered cure for arthritis, but the simple fact is, the correlation between what you eat and how your disease responds has never been conclusively proven. Common sense dictates that what you put into your body will have an effect on how your system responds, but many believe the factors vary for each individual. If you discover that eating eggplant makes your R.A. go haywire, well, then, don't eat eggplant -- but that's about as definitive as it gets.

There are so many myths out there when dealing with Arthritis; the number quite possibly may be more than any other disease. The weather and barometric pressure, salt baths, and even strenuous exercise, are all said to affect the symptoms of R.A. and other forms of arthritis. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a form of the illness, do as much reading as you can on the subject before you decide on a plan. The Arthritis Foundation is a great place to start -- they host events many times during the year. I will be at the yearly walk myself, although I'm not sure how much "walking" I will be able to do. I'll have to make sure not to eat eggplant, crack my knuckles thoroughly, and not become elderly, just to play it safe.