The Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

The Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

Arthritis isn’t only one condition. You may be surprised to learn that there are more than 100 kinds of arthritis. However, the two most prevalent types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

About one-quarter of the adult population in the United States has arthritis, and osteoarthritis strikes 10% of men and 13% of women who are 60 or older. On the other hand, only about 1.5 million of Americans have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Both types of the joint disease can be very disabling. That’s why it’s important to get a correct diagnosis in the early stages, when treatments can be most effective. 

Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons with Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine provide expert arthritis care. We help you regain mobility, ease your pain, and restore your quality of life.

How are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis different? 

Although both conditions cause painful, inflamed joints, they have significant differences. 

Root cause

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have different root causes. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease. You have tough tissue, or cartilage, surrounding your joints. Its function is to protect the joints and keep your bones from rubbing against each other. 

If you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage starts to deteriorate. You can develop bone-on-bone friction if all of the cartilage is destroyed. 

You can develop painful bone spurs around the joint, and because there’s no cushion between the bones, it’s painful to move the damaged joint. The bones weaken as well. 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis; your immune system malfunctions. Instead of protecting you from outside threats like viruses and bacteria, it sees your joints as a threat and attacks them. Osteoarthritis isn’t an autoimmune condition per se, but it does produce inflammation.

Joints that are affected

Osteoarthritis usually affects the joints you use most often. For example, basketball players may get OA in their knees from the force placed on them from running and jumping. 

If your job requires repetitive motions of the hands, arms, or shoulders, overuse of those joints may lead to OA. Factory workers, warehouse workers, construction workers, and machine shop workers may be more prone to developing OA.

If you’re a teacher or a nurse or someone who stands most of the day, you could develop arthritis in the joints that support your body: your spine, hips, or knees. 

On the other hand, RA tends to appear in the joints in your hands and feet. Less often, it can develop in the shoulder, elbows, knees, and ankles. OA and RA can occur in any joint. 

Morning stiffness

OA may make you feel a bit like the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” when you wake up in the morning, but after a few minutes, you work out the kinks. 

Morning stiffness with RA, however, stays with you for up to several hours. That makes it difficult to get your day started. Extended morning stiffness can be an initial symptom of the disease, and it’s a key difference between the two types of arthritis. 

Variety of symptoms 

Osteoarthritis symptoms include stiffness, pain, and/or swelling in your joints. You may even hear noises like a snap, crackle, or crunch when you move the joint. 

RA symptoms also include pain and stiffness, but you may have a number of other symptoms that OA patients don’t have. These include a low fever, poor appetite, excessive fatigue, weakness, and/or small nodules under the skin. 

If you have painful joints or other musculoskeletal problems, call Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine or book an appointment online today. Our orthopedic specialists in West Memphis, Arkansas, and Collierville, Tennessee, provide expert care to help get you moving again. 

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