How Is Osteoarthritis Different from Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Jul 03, 2023

How Is Osteoarthritis Different from Rheumatoid Arthritis?

How Is Osteoarthritis Different from Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Arthritis 一 an umbrella term that refers to over 100 different types of joint conditions 一 affects millions of people worldwide. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common types of arthritis, but the common thread between them is joint inflammation and pain.

Although both conditions affect the joints, they have distinct characteristics, causes, and treatment approaches. Our team here at Sequoia Institute for Surgical Services helps you manage the pain of either condition, but it’s essential to know which condition you have. Before we recommend a treatment plan, we confirm whether your joint pain is due to osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. 

Read on as our team of orthopedic specialists explores the key differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

What causes each type of arthritis? 

The fundamental difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis lies in their underlying causes. Osteoarthritis is primarily a degenerative condition due to wear and tear on your joints over time. Aging, joint injury, obesity, and genetic predisposition contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body's own tissues, particularly the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but researchers believe that genetics, hormonal factors, and environmental triggers play a role in its development. Smoking and carrying excess body fat are also risk factors.

Exploring the different types of symptoms

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis primarily affect your joints, but they tend to differ in which joints are involved and the symptoms you experience.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis typically affects weight-bearing joints, such as your knees, hips, and spine, but it can develop in other joints, too. It often results in joint pain, stiffness, tenderness, and reduced range of motion. The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually worsen with physical activity and improve with rest.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis can affect multiple joints simultaneously, including your hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. It often presents with symmetrical joint involvement, meaning that if one joint is affected, the corresponding joint on the opposite side of the body is also likely to be affected. You may also notice that smaller joints (such as the smaller finger joints) are affected before larger joints, like your wrist.

Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with joint swelling, warmth, tenderness, fatigue, fever, and general malaise.

Comparing the progression of each type of arthritis 

The progression and joint damage caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis also differ significantly. Osteoarthritis typically progresses slowly over time as the cartilage in the joints wears away. With ongoing degeneration, bone spurs may develop, and the joint space may narrow. However, in most cases, the joint damage is localized to the affected joint.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the synovium becomes inflamed, leading to the formation of pannus, an extra growth of abnormal tissue that can erode the cartilage and bone within your joint. This progressive joint destruction can result in deformities and loss of function if left untreated.

Treating osteoarthritis versus rheumatoid arthritis 

The treatment strategies for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis differ. 

Treating osteoarthritis

For osteoarthritis, treatment focuses on managing symptoms, reducing pain, and improving joint function. Lifestyle modifications include weight management, exercise, physical therapy, and pain management techniques. We may prescribe medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, and hyaluronic acid injections. You could also benefit from eating an anti-inflammatory diet.

Treating rheumatoid arthritis 

Rheumatoid arthritis treatment aims to suppress the immune system's abnormal response. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate, are commonly used to control inflammation and slow disease progression. Biologic drugs that target specific components of the immune system have also revolutionized the management of rheumatoid arthritis.

Joint pain? We can help!

While osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are both forms of arthritis that affect the joints, they have distinct differences in their causes, joint involvement, symptoms, progression, and treatment approaches. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis, appropriate management, and improved quality of life for individuals with arthritis. 

If you suspect you may have arthritis, don’t brush off your symptoms. Our team excels at diagnosing and treating arthritis with personalized treatment plans.

To book your arthritis consultation, call the location of your choice 一 Porterville, Reedley, or Visalia, California 一 or schedule your appointment online.