The differences between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

The differences between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

The differences between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is an umbrella term used to describe inflammation of the joints. However, there are different kinds of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).

Although RA and OA both affect your joints, they’re very different forms of the same broader condition. RA is an autoimmune condition, where OA is primarily a degenerative joint condition.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is an autoimmune disorder, which means your body attacks itself. If you have RA, your body interprets the soft lining around your joints as a threat, similar to a virus or bacteria, and attacks it.

This attack causes fluid to accumulate within your joint. In addition to swelling, this build-up also causes pain, stiffness and inflammation around your joints.


OA, the most common form of arthritis, is a degenerative joint disorder. People with OA experience a breakdown of the cartilage that cushions their joints. The wearing down of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other. This exposes small nerves, causing pain. OA doesn’t involve an autoimmune process as RA does, but mild inflammation also occurs.

Risk factors

Both types of arthritis are more common in women than in men. RA and OA are more prevalent in older adults, but RA can develop at any age.

RA can run in families. You have a higher chance of developing the condition if a parent, child or sibling has it. It is also more common in smokers.

With OA, you’re more likely to develop it if you:

  • Knees: being overweight, previous knee injury, jobs involving kneeling, climbing and squatting
  • Hips: being overweight, previous hip injury, jobs involving lifting heavy loads, a family history of OA
  • Have diabetes and/or gout
  • Experienced traumatic injuries to your joints

Similarities in symptoms of OA and RA

  • Painful, stiff joints
  • Limited range of motion
  • Warmth or tenderness in the affected area
  • Increased intensity of symptoms first thing in the morning

Characteristics of RA

RA can affect your entire body – lungs, heart, eyes – not just your joints. RA is a symmetrical disease. That means you’ll experience symptoms on both sides of your body at the same time.

Early signs of RA can include:

  • Low-grade fever, especially in children
  • Muscle aches
  • Excessive fatigue

People in advanced stages of RA may notice hard lumps underneath the skin joints. The lumps, called rheumatoid nodules, can be tender.

Characteristics of OA

People with OA are unlikely to experience overall symptoms. The degenerative nature of OA is limited solely to the joints.

With OA, bone spurs may develop around the affected joints.

Treatment for OA and RA

The primary goal is to reduce pain, improve function and minimize damage to your joints. Your doctor will approach these goals differently, depending on which condition you have.

There is no way of predicting which treatment will work best for you. Each treatment has its own benefits and risks. Usually, several treatments will be trialed before finding the one that is right for you.

Anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid medications are generally effective for both OA and RA.

In general terms, treatment can include:

  • A weight loss program, if you’re overweight
  • An exercise program tailored to your condition and ability
  • Pain management using medicines as well as learning to change the way you think about and react to pain
  • Devices such as braces, walking sticks, and shoe insoles
  • Joint replacement surgery, if symptoms are no longer controlled with other therapies.


Chiro & Sports Med

Our chiropractors at Chiro & Sports Med are committed to providing chiropractic solutions to address your unique needs, whether you are experiencing an irritated nerve, bulging disc, back painneck pain, knee pain, headaches, or even muscular tightness and tension. You may be searching for pain relief after an accident or experiencing an injury. Likewise, you may be suffering from a specific condition like chronic back pain or a spinal condition. Our mission is to help reduce or eliminate pain and to prevent future problems and injury. Above all, we are here to improve your quality of life, well-being, and your ability to live an active healthy lifestyle.

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