As we age, many of us will begin to experience aches and pains in our backs and joints. This pain and stiffness can be caused by a variety of factors, from our lifestyles, to the weather, to disease.
Any inflammation, ache, or stiffness in our joints is a condition known as arthritis. Arthritis is the medical name for the symptom, but the term actually refers to more than 100 different types of arthritis, causes and diseases of joint pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an individual’s chances of developing arthritis can depend on the following risk factors:
- Joint injury or overuse — Injury or overuse, such as knee bending and repetitive stress on a joint, can damage a joint and increase the risk of developing arthritis in that joint.
- Age — The risk of developing arthritis increases with age.
- Gender — Women are more likely to develop arthritis than men, especially after age 50.
- Obesity — Extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees. This stress increases the risk of arthritis in these joints, and may lead to other metabolic disorders that can exacerbate symptoms.
- Genetics — People who have family members who suffer from arthritis are more likely to develop symptoms. Furthermore, developing arthritis in one joint often precedes development of arthritis in other joints in the body.
Two of the most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These two forms of arthritis can wreak havoc on joints — especially in the hands and feet — but their causes and treatments couldn’t be more different. Below, we’ll explore the differences between these two types of arthritis, what causes them, and how to treat them.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative condition caused by natural “wear and tear” as bodies age. Osteoarthritis develops gradually over a lifetime, often due to repetitive motion and “stress” on the joints. Osteoarthritis pain is most commonly felt in the weight-bearing joints of knees, hips, lower back, and neck, but any joint in the body can be affected.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the connective tissue in joints wears away, leaving bones to rub against each other. Ligaments and tendons around the joints then begin to shift and stretch to accommodate the changing shape of the joint, causing stiffness and pain.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting about 32.5 million adults in the United States alone. This is roughly 55% of all reported arthritis cases in the U.S. The next most common types of arthritis in adults are autoimmune and inflammatory arthritis — collectively known as rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease affecting the tissue lining of affected joints. People with autoimmune diseases experience symptoms when their immune system attacks healthy tissue in the body, causing inflammation, swelling, and pain.
The root cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unclear, but researchers believe the condition can develop due to a variety of factors, including genetics, exposure to pathogens and viruses, lifestyle choices like smoking, and environmental factors. Interestingly, studies show that breastfeeding can actually reduce an individual’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Key Differences
Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cause painful inflammation and swelling around the body’s joints, but the two conditions are very different. Their causes, symptoms, and treatments are unique, so anyone struggling with stiff joints should consult with a medical professional to learn which form of arthritis they have and how to best manage their symptoms.
Below, we’ll break down some key differences in these arthritic conditions:
Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes
Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage and other tissues within the joint break down or have a change in their structure. This usually occurs gradually, over decades, rather than all at once. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder. This immune system disorder can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, injuries, or overuse. Little is known about what causes this immune response, but it may be related to an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, also known as sed rate) or C-reactive protein (CRP) level.
Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms
The most common shared symptoms between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are joint pain and morning stiffness. However, the two have a distinct set of comorbidities. In addition to joint stiffness, other symptoms of OA include tenderness at the affected joints, a decreased range of motion, a “grating” or scraping sensation in large joints when moving, and bone spurs, or extra bits of bone that form around affected joints. RA patients may also experience occasional flu-like symptoms — such as chronic fatigue, low-grade fevers, and loss of appetite — as well as painful inflammation of tissue around internal organs.
Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis treatments
OA patients are usually able to manage their joint pain using acetaminophen or over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription, and some patients may opt for periodic injections into affected joints for longer-term relief. In addition to over-the-counter pain relief, many OA patients receive physical therapy.
RA treatment differs in that medications and procedures aim to regulate the immune system to prevent attacks or slow progress. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are a class of drugs indicated for the treatment of inflammatory arthritis. Damage and fluid-buildup around affected joints and tissues can be removed in a procedure called a synovectomy, and tendons damaged or ruptured by RA can be surgically repaired or replaced.
Are You Experiencing Joint Stiffness and Pain?
If you feel pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints — especially after waking up or resting for a long period — it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider. With a physical examination and possibly a blood test, your doctor can determine the cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan to slow the condition’s progression and manage symptoms.
Ready to make an appointment? Call the Community Access Network today.
Call us: (434) 200-3366