Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis (My Aching Bones)

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis (My Aching Bones) is for information purposes only and should not be used as an alternative to medical advice or seeing your doctor.

When you first discovered you or someone you know had arthritis, did you think arthritis was arthritis like I did? I was amazed to find out there are over 200 types of arthritis. Among those, 200 are two that you have probably heard of – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

What are the differences, symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of each? In osteoarthritis vs. rheumatoid arthritis, we will take a look at this to lead to a better understanding of the two. For a side-by-side comparison, there is a chart at the bottom of this post.

What is Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - Osteoarthritis Written on a Clipboard

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also known as OA or OA, a degenerative joint disease, which is an arthritic condition that occurs when the cartilage that protects and cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time.

This wearing down of the cartilage is caused by repetitive use of the joints.

Because it is the wearing of cartilage over time, merely aging can be a factor in developing osteoarthritis. Because of this, osteoarthritis is also commonly known as the “wear and tear” disease.

And though Osteoarthritis is more common in people over 50, it can still be seen in people in their 20s and 30s, especially from a joint injury and overuse – as seen in many sports.

The most common joints of osteoarthritis affected are the hands, knees, hips, neck, and spine though it can occur at any joint. If the cartilage wears down completely, bone to bone contact will occur.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

As osteoarthritis progresses, symptoms become noticeable:

  • Tender to the touch
  • Pain – you may notice more pain during or after the movement of the joint.
  • Inflammation – may be caused by the soft tissue surrounding the joint.
  • Stiffness – More noticeable after inactivity or rest.
  • Loss of flexibility – the range of motion of the joint may become limited.
  • You might experience what has been described as clicking, crackling, or popping of the joint. The technical term for this is crepitus.
  • Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

You’ve had some vague symptoms for some time, or maybe those vague symptoms have turned into excruciating pain. You need to go to the doctor and have your symptoms looked and to get an accurate diagnosis.

To start with, your doctor will probably request a verbal checklist of symptoms. He will then go on and give the joint or joints a visual exam accessing such things as tenderness, inflammation, range of motion, and any redness.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - Xray of Degenenative Osteoarthritis

Some patients may have imaging tests such as X-rays and or an MRI.

As cartilage isn’t shown in X-rays, the test can be used to allow a look at the space between joints — narrowing of the space, which is indicative of osteoarthritis.

An MRI does show cartilage, but as of now isn’t usually done in the run-of-the-mill diagnosis of osteoarthritis.

Blood tests can be used to rule out other diseases that may mimic osteoarthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

What Increases the Chance of Experiencing Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - Risk Factors
  • Women are more at risk than men
  • Age – the risk increases with age
  • Weight – being overweight or obese adds stress to the joints.
  • Prior Injuries
  • Genetics – if others in your family have osteoarthritis, you may have a predisposed tendency to acquire osteoarthritis in your lifetime.
  • Repetitive movement, currently or even from the past, can increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis.


As Osteoarthritis can’t be reversed, treatment focuses on managing your symptoms. Managing your symptoms can come in many forms, such as Medication, Physical Therapy, Nutrition, Surgery, Lifestyle, and Support.


Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - A Variety of Syringes and Drugs on a Medical Tray

NSAIDs – These drugs reduce inflammation as well as ease pain. Ibuprofen is an example of an NSAID- some familiar names are Motrin and Advil. Naproxen is another NSAID – a common one is Aleve. Use at a recommended dosage.

There are other NSAIDs that you need a prescription for that your doctor might suggest.

Non NSAIDS – Acetaminophen such as Tylenol can be taken for mild to moderate pain.

Corticosteroids – given by injection to reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids can be beneficial for reducing inflammation but can also have some severe side effects, so be sure to talk this option over with your doctor before consenting.

Cymbalta (Duloxetine) is often used as an antidepressant and has also been used to treat pain resulting from osteoarthritis.

Physical TherapyOsteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - Physical Therapist Working on Client

Physical Therapy can be helpful in your treatment of osteoarthritis.

A physical therapist can use techniques that may increase the range of motion in stiff joints.  Osteoarthritis often comes pain when there is friction between joint bones. Physical therapy can improve strength and stability in muscles and joints that will lessen that pain.


Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - Selection of Balanced Diet Foods

As usual, you’ll find a healthful diet is one that is suggested. A healthful diet includes fruits, vegetables, omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna and flaxseed, and nuts.

Inflammation is part of osteoarthritis, and eating a diet that consists of foods that cause inflammation should be decreased. These foods include sugar, alcohol, salt, saturated fats, white flour, and in some people, dairy.


Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - Knee-Arthroscopy

After all the above treatments haven’t worked (plus others your doctor may suggest), the question of whether or not to have surgery may arise. There are a few surgeries that your doctor might consider. Two such operations are arthroscopy and arthroplasty.


A small tube about the size of a pen is inserted into the joint, and with a camera attached, the doctor can see inside the joint. Making other small incisions allows the doctor to smooth out the rough edges, remove damaged cartilage, or bone fragments from inside. Arthroscopy has limited uses and success rates.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - Osteoarthritis-Knee Comparison - Left Anthroplasty-Total Knee Replacement and Untouched Right Knee

Arthroplasty – Total joint replacement

The complete joint is taken out and replaced with a metal or plastic artificial joint. Pain is significantly reduced with this procedure but may need to be redone every 20 years or so because the artificial joint may wear out.


Some lifestyle changes can be made that can be helpful.

Exercise – low impact such as walking, biking, or swimming are options that increase endurance and muscle strength.

Weight Loss – if overweight or obese, even a small amount of weight loss can be beneficial.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis - Men and Women in a Support Group Circle


Having a support system is important when dealing with the aspects of arthritis.  Whether this is family or friends, joining a support group that focuses on arthritis can be beneficial as well.

Support groups enable you to meet with others that are dealing with the same things you are.  You can talk openly and honestly about your feelings as well as offering your support to others. To find a support group by you, go to www.arthritis.org and look for a local group.  They also have an online community that many find helpful.

Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Now that you know what Osteoarthritis is – how does that differ from Rheumatoid arthritis? An article I wrote entitled “About Arthritis and Rheumatism” goes into depth about Rheumatism.

Though there are some similarities that both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis share, they are caused by very different processes in the body.

  • Osteoarthritis is the deterioration of the cartilage by wear and tear, whereas rheumatoid arthritis is a condition where the immune system attacks its own tissue.
  • Both are progressive diseases in that they tend to worsen over time.
  • Osteoarthritis can affect joints individually – rheumatoid arthritis is often seen symmetrically on both sides of the body- for example, both hands, both knees, etc.
  • Neither can be cured but can be managed with medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, nutrition, and surgery.

Comparison Table – Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Below is a table that shows some of the differences and similarities between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

FeaturesOsteoarthritisRheumatoid Arthritis
DescriptionDegenerative Joint Disease – Occurs When the Cartilage That Protects and Cushions the Ends of the Bones Wears Down Over TimeBody’s Immune System Attacks Its Own Tissue, Including That of the Joints
CausesOveruse and Wear and TearEnvironment and Genetic
Loss of AppetiteNoYes


Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis come under the same wide umbrella of the general term “arthritis.”  Whether you have or suspect you have osteoarthritis vs. rheumatoid arthritis, there is medical treatment available.  Please don’t use this article as medical advice – it is intended for informational purposes only.  It’s important that you consult a medical professional for a correct diagnosis.  Once you have a correct diagnosis, you can, with your doctor, develop a treatment plan.

Thank you for stopping buy and looking at Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis (My Aching Bones).

If you have any arthritis and/or treatment experience, I would love to hear about your experience. Please comment below.

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