What’s the difference between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis? 24



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Do you notice that some days your joints just feel stiffer and less mobile than they used to be?

Maybe you put it down to getting older.

Chances are you may be right. While in some cases arthritis may come about due to ageing, there are other underlying factors which can increase the stiffness and sometimes pain you experience in your body.

Arthritis is generally the most common reason for the changes you’ll feel in your joints, but how do the symptoms you go through differ depending on the type of arthritis you have?

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis refers to a change within the joints in your body. This may occur with or without inflammation and can determine the way your joints are affected.


Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is a natural process which occurs as you age. It is generally seen as you hit the 40-50+ year mark. There are a variety of underlying causes which can aggravate and accelerate the development of your arthritis such as previous injuries, poor posture and trauma.

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease affects the cartilage in your joints which protect your bones and prevent them from rubbing against each other. The more your cartilage breaks down, the quicker your bones degenerate leading to more significant arthritic problems.

If you suffer from osteoarthritis you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Stiffness in one or multiple joints in the body

Joints commonly affected are the hands, fingers, knees, hips, neck and lower back.

  • Pain within the joint as well as surrounding the joint due to possible inflammation
  • Reduced movement in the affected joints
  • Pain that may be worse after activities such as walking, exercise

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis on the other hand is an inflammatory conditions and does not gradually develop as you age like osteoarthritis.

It can come about from as early as 20 years old and is an autoimmune disease where your immune system, which usually protects you from foreign substances, attacks your joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause significant inflammation of the joints and generally affects the smaller joints in your body compared to osteoarthritis.

The most common joints affected are:

  • Elbows
  • Hands
  • Ankles
  • Knees
  • Wrists
  • Feet

One of the big differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is that it not only affects the joints like osteoarthritis but causes systemic changes and can affect the eyes, lungs, heart and kidneys.

Osteoarthritis tends to get worse as you age where as rheumatoid arthritis can have periods of flare ups which can become excruciatingly painful due to inflammation. This is followed by periods of remission where no pain at all is experienced.

To add to this with osteoarthritis it tends to gets worse with activity and exercise due to increased load and stress on the joint. This is not the case with Rheumatoid arthritis since it is usually most painful in the morning. Pain in the morning is also a symptom of Osteoarthritis so it is important for a health professional to help you differentiate between the two.

Always see a health professional for peace of mind

While it is very important to keep track of your symptoms, it is vital you see a health professional to determine your specific condition so that the best treatment is undertaken. Various treatment methods have been found to be very effective after an accurate diagnosis is made so always consult someone before getting started on any self-treatment program.

Do you suffer from Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid arthritis? What have you done to help give yourself relief and keep you pain free. Tell us in the comments section below.

Mark El-Hayek

Mark El-Hayek is a chiropractor and owner of Spine and Posture Care in Sydney CBD. He specialises in biomechanical disorders of the spine and rehabilitation of poor posture. When he's not in the clinic he loves playing tennis and soccer and is a huge Manchester United fan! spineandposturecare.com.au

  1. i got both. rheumatoid is the most painfull. some days i cant walk and im only 61.

    4 REPLY
    • Me too Kay, in the last 12 months I have had two full knee replacements so I no longer have the crippling pain I was in before the surgery, for the few months your out of action it is worth doing.

    • i got it in every joint.. from feet to shoulders. i try so hard to do some things. but i just cant no more. i was a cleaner for 40 years so its hard to just stop beinf so busy.

  2. I’ve got both, it seems to hit the sciatic nerve in the lower back and travels down the right leg, it’s incredibly painful.
    I rub it in with a special ointment, take a pain killer, do certain exercises, by mid morning it’s normally easing a bit.
    Sometimes it feels like pins and needles in my leg.
    One of my vertebrae is expending and presses on the sciatic nerve. I should see a specialist, but since I am not privately insured might have to wait years before I can expect to see someone, got a referral from my GP. I’m 72.
    Get very little done, am extremely clumsy, have to watch my step all the time, feel like falling over.
    Grin and bear it!

    2 REPLY
  3. I’ve said this before! If I stop eating Wheat and Grains .ie. Bread etc then I don’t have joint pain! Eat it again, and the pain comes back! Tried it over and over, with the same results.

    6 REPLY
  4. When I had sciatic pain down my leg! It was because I was overweight! Lost the weight, and the pain disappeared.

  5. Rheumatoid arthritis runs in my family. Fortunately I’ve been spared, I just have a bit of osteo. But my poor sister, who is 10 years younger, has had rheumatoid since her twenties. She’s had 3 knee replacements, 2 hips, 2 shoulders plus a heart operation. For quite a number of years she was in remission but it always comes back.

  6. I got osteoarthritis both knees,change my diet ,lose some weight ,stop drinking coca cola,now feel good .i postponed my knees replacement.coca cola is really triggered me hard.

  7. I have both on fair amount of medication for the RA which can be quite painful. With osteo I had two hip replacements 8 & 7 years ago &. Now looks like I will need the first one replaced, some of my fingers can be quite painful. But it doesn’t stop me doing stuff some days I get really weary so I just take to my bed & rest

  8. Osteo arthritis is wearing away of the bones and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is very bad pain I think the osteo isn’t. Very good as bones start to break away if can go get fixed and do the exercises they give you and soon you should be pain free don’t give up on exercises for six to eight weeks then o.k.

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