Stop Blaming Arthritis for Your Pain

There needs to be a giant shift in the way we search for the causes of pain.

An arthritis diagnosis is, quite often, useless.

If your pain started last week and your x-ray shows 20 years worth of arthritis, you’re going to have a hard time making a logical argument that your pain is from that arthritis. That doesn’t even make sense. How could something that’s been constant for years be the reason for your pain that started last week?


The shape of your bones doesn’t cause your pain.

There are people who have bones and joints that look identical to yours but don’t have pain.

Please take a moment to let that sink in.


Stop identifying with your arthritis.

Most of you would be better off if you stopped saying things like, “Oh I have shoulder arthritis and it’s acting up again.” At its best, it’s an unknowing excuse; at its worst it’s ownership of a victimization status. Neither of these help you in any way. The fact is that your pain is multifactorial, and it’s very likely you could feel better if two things happened…


Two things that need to happen.

1)   You need a proper diagnosis.

Something beyond arthritis or tendonitis or bursitis, which are redundant and frustratingly unhelpful.  You need a diagnosis that tells you what’s not functioning properly. Think about it: if your fancy gold watch was making a weird noise, you might take it in to get it looked at. What if the watchmaker gave you a diagnosis of “watch-itis”? When pressed for further clarification, the watchmaker tells you that “watch-itis” means that the watch is making a weird noise. Wouldn’t you say, “Well, yes. That’s not actually helpful because that’s what I just told you. Can you tell me what’s actually wrong with the watch?” And wouldn’t you go to a different watchmaker if they couldn’t give you a better answer?

Why are we holding our doctor’s diagnoses to a lower standard than our watchmakers’ explanations? When, searching for the reason for pain, we need to shift our focus towards function and away from structure.

2)   You need to get up off the couch and change your life in some way.

There need to be certain foundational elements in place for your human physiology to thrive. Without rest, good food, water, exercise/movement, and time spent away from stress, you can’t expect to feel better. This means, more than likely, you’re going to have to change something. Yes, habit change is annoying. But it’s the price of admission. Especially if your pain is non-traumatically induced, you’re going to have the change something.


Cool case studies that hammer the point home.

Case 1

A man with terrible back pain and sciatica needs 50 ibuprofen/week and is preparing for back surgery. He overhauls his diet and 20 days later is pain-free for the first time in years. He is off pain killers completely.

Case 2

A man with big toe arthritis is suddenly cured of his toe pain. His arthritis remains, but his pain is gone. What’s changed? A proper diagnosis identified a weak and inactive muscle in his toe. He started using that little muscle, and now he can flex his big toe joint again. The result is a pain-free toe.

Case 3

A 58-year old man increases his activity significantly in an effort to lose weight. In the process his knee begins to experience acute stabbing pain. An x-ray reveals that years of hard-labor jobs have produced significant arthritis in his knee. At this point, it’s bone-on-bone. The pain lingers for a number of weeks until he decides to get a cortisone shot in the joint. The cortisone shot calms the inflammation; the man rehabs his knee, alters the way he moves, and improves his diet. The result is a knee that’s still bone-on-bone but pain-free through any increased activity he chooses.


You might’ve had a frivolous arthritis diagnosis if…

  • You were told you had arthritis-induced pain solely because of an x-ray.
  • You’ve never fully tried to get rid of the inflammatory effects of crummy food.
  • You’ve made no intentional attempt at changing the way you move (this is different than general strengthening).
  • You’ve made no change in your overall activity level.


***Disclaimer: this is specifically speaking about degenerative changes and slow-onset, wear-n-tear arthritis. This does not apply to those who have autoimmune or systemic inflammatory disorders.