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Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid arthritis


What is it?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is the wear and tear of the protective cartilage that cushions the end of the bones. Areas affected are usually the hands, knees, hips and spine. Damage done cannot be reversed but there are several methods to slow the progression and manage pain.

*Cartilage is a firm, slippery tissue that enables nearly frictionless joint motion.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

  • Pain: Affected joints might hurt during or after movement.

  • Stiffness: Joint stiffness might be most noticeable upon awakening or after being inactive.

  • Tenderness: Your joint might feel tender when you apply light pressure to it.

  • Loss of flexibility: You might not be able to move your joint through its full range of motion.

  • Grating sensation: You might feel a grating sensation when you use the joint, and you might hear popping or crackling.

  • Bone spurs: These extra bits of bone, which feel like hard lumps, can form around the affected joint.

Risk factors

  • Older age: The risk of osteoarthritis increases with age.

  • Sex: Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, though it isn't clear why.

  • Obesity: Increased weight adds stress to weight-bearing joints, such as your hips and knees. Also, fat tissue produces proteins that can cause harmful inflammation in and around your joints.

  • Joint injuries: Injuries, such as those that occur when playing sports or from an accident, can increase the risk of osteoarthritis.

  • Repeated stress on the joint: If your job or a sport you play places repetitive stress on a joint, that joint might eventually develop osteoarthritis.

  • Genetics: Some people inherit a tendency to develop osteoarthritis.

  • Bone deformities: Some people are born with malformed joints or defective cartilage.

  • Certain metabolic diseases: These include diabetes and a condition in which your body has too much iron (hemochromatosis).

  • Swelling: This might be caused by soft tissue inflammation around the joint.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Physical examination

  • X rays

  • MRI

  • Joint fluid analysis

Your doctor might conduct these tests to get more information or to rule out rheumatoid arthritis

Treatments available

Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may order treatments most suitable for you. These include pain relief medication, physical therapy or occupational therapy, injections, bone realignment, or joint replacement.

Ways to slow progression

  • Stay active: physical activity of 20-30 mins every other day helps strengthen your muscles, and may help relieve stiffness. Try activities like Tai chi or Yoga for flexibility and pain management

  • Maintain healthy weight: Excess weight puts pressure on your joints especially the hips and knees.

  • Medical treatment: These include physical or occupational therapy, injections or joint replacements.

Important note:

It is crucial to know which kind of arthritis you are suffering from, to receive the most suitable treatment. Osteoarthritis is different from rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

What is it?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder. It is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues (synovium). It can affect more than just your joints. In some people, the condition can damage other body system (skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels)

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joint that causes painful swelling, eventually resulting in bone erosion and joint deformities.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints

  • Joint stiffness that is usually worse in the mornings and after inactivity

  • Fatigue, fever and loss of appetite

These are some of the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis


Early stages of rheumatoid arthritis tend to affect the smaller joints first. These include the fingers and toes. As it progresses, it may wrist, ankles, knees, albows, hips and shoulders.

Mostly it occurs on the same joints on both sides of your body.

Risk factors

  • Your sex: Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Age: Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but it commonly begins in middle age.

  • Family history: There is increased risk of the disease if your family member has it.

  • Smoking: Risk is increased for developing rheumatoid arthritis, particularly if you have a genetic predisposition for developing the disease. Smoking also appears to be associated with greater disease severity.

  • Obesity: Especially women age 55 and younger (who are overweight or obese) appear to be at a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Possible complications

  • Osteoporosis: Rheumatoid arthritis itself, along with some medications can increase your risk of osteoporosis.

  • Rheumatoid nodules: Firm bumps of tissue most commonly form around pressure points (eg. elbows) However, these nodules can form anywhere in the body, including the lungs.

  • Dry eyes and mouth: Higher likelihood to experience Sjogren's syndrome (a disorder that decreases the amount of moisture in your eyes and mouth).

  • Infections: The disease itself and many of the medications used to combat rheumatoid arthritis can impair the immune system, leading to increased infections.

  • Abnormal body composition: People who have rheumatoid arthritis often have a higher proportion of fat to lean mass, even if they have a normal body mass index (BMI).

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: If rheumatoid arthritis affects your wrists, the inflammation can compress the nerve that serves most of your hand and fingers.

  • Heart problems: There is an increased risk of hardened and blocked arteries, including inflammation of the sac that encloses your heart.

  • Lung disease: There is an increased risk of inflammation and scarring of the lung tissues, which can lead to progressive shortness of breath.

  • Lymphoma: There is an increased risk of lymphoma, a group of blood cancers that develop in the lymph system.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Physical examination: Your doctor will check your joints for swelling, redness and warmth. He or she may also check your reflexes and muscle strength

  • Blood tests: People with rheumatoid arthritis often have an 1) elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, or sed rate), 2) C-reactive protein (CRP) - indicator of an inflammatory process in the body, 3) anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies.

  • Imagine tests:

  • X-rays may be ordered to track the progression of your condition over time. MRI and ultrasound tests help your doctor judge the severity of the disease.

Treatments available

Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may order treatments most suitable for you. These include medication, physical therapy or occupational therapy, and surgery.

Ways to ease symptoms

  • Exercise regularly: Gentle exercises like stretching or walks can help strengthen the muscles around your joints. Check with your doctor before you start exercising.

  • Apply heat or cold: Heat helps ease your pain and relax tense, painful muscles. Cold helps dull the sensation of pain. Cold also has a numbing effect and can reduce swelling.

  • Relax. Techniques such as guided imagery, deep breathing and muscle relaxation can all be used to control pain.

Important note:

It is crucial to know which kind of arthritis you are suffering from, to receive the most suitable treatment. Get yourself checked if you experience any of the mentioned symptoms.

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