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Arthritis Exercise Glossary Healthcare and Information

Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis: What's The Difference?

1 year, 6 months ago

5010  0
Posted on Jul 08, 2019, 2 p.m.

Written courtesy of  Dr. Brent Wells.

Between 2013 and 2015, doctors diagnosed more than 50 million American adults with some form of arthritis. While most people have a basic idea of what arthritis is, they are less familiar with the different types.

Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are two of the most common forms of arthritis, and their similarities can make it difficult for doctors to distinguish which form a patient has. Researchers and medical professionals are looking for ways to tell the form of arthritis a person has to better treat the specific form. 

While it may be difficult to distinguish the form of arthritis a patient has, there are differences between rheumatoid and osteoarthritis that can affect how a medical professional treats the ailment.

The Basics of Arthritis

To understand the various forms of arthritis, you need to understand what arthritis is. With more than 100 types of arthritis, you need to know which one you have to properly treat it.

The term arthritis is a fairly generic term that can apply to many different ailments. Any disease or ailment that causes your joints to become inflamed is a type of arthritis. It causes the inflamed joints to feel stiff and painful. Most people associate arthritis with hands, but any joint in your body can be affected by arthritis.

Arthritis sufferers may experience pain in their knees, hips, feet, shoulders, spine, and neck. It can be debilitating, and there is no cure for it. Arthritis can affect children too, though it is not common. Though you cannot cure it, you can learn to manage the pain.

Osteoarthritis – The Problem

Commonly referred to as OA, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. An estimated 27 million people in the US are affected by OA every year.

The pain may be similar between the OA and rheumatoid arthritis, but the cause of each is very different. Over time the cartilage (soft tissue that acts as a cushion between your bones and joints) gets worn down. Repetitive movements wears cartilage, but injuries can speed up the process. This wearing of cartilage is what causes OA.

The following are body parts often affected by OA:

  •       Fingers
  •       Hands
  •       Neck
  •       Lower back
  •       Hips
  •       Knees

These are the parts of the body that people tend to use the most. Suffers usually begin to feel the pain as the cartilage wears. Initially, the suffering may be mild and intermittent. Over time though, it can become more severe as the cartilage is worn away and the bones begin to rub against joints. This causes the joints to become inflamed.

With hands being one of the most utilized parts of the body (particularly today with technology), many people experience OA in their hands. Typically, OA affects the last joints in the fingers.

OA is essentially wear and tear on the body, and most people believe it is an inevitability as they age. However, there are treatments available that can reduce the pain and minimize how much a person is affected by the ailment.

You can also begin to protect yourself from it while you are young. There are several simple basic things that people can do to minimize cartilage wear without treatment.

  •       By staying in good shape, you can reduce the stress on hips, knees, and your spine.
  •       Avoid repetitive motions as much as possible. Sitting for too long causes additional stress on joints can harm cartilage. Looking down at your phone can also contribute to OA in your neck later.
  •       Reduce stress on your joints by being more aware of your regular activities. Try to change your habits that are repetitive.

Women are more likely to suffer from OA. Being aware of this can help you to prepare and to be more careful about your regular activities.

Rheumatoid Arthritis – The Problem

Rheumatoid arthritis, often referred to as RA, is caused by a person’s immune system attacking joint tissue. Like other types of arthritis, it can begin slowly, then over time the pain and stiffness will become worse. Unlike OA, RA may also include other symptoms that can be misdiagnosed as the flu. You may find that you are more tired, weaker, and could have a fever. 

RA is the second most commonly diagnosed arthritis, with about 1.5 million American adults being affected every year. Initially, it will cause pain in the joints. Over time, your immune system continues to attack the joints, which can cause damage to other parts around the joint, such as cartilage and bone.

Like OA, the hands are often affected. Often a sufferer will experience pain in their hands before other parts of the body. However, other joints may be affected by this type of arthritis:

  •       Fingers and thumbs
  •       Wrists, elbows, and shoulders
  •       Knees, feet, and ankles

RA is not a disease that is an inevitability. Since it is initiated by your own immune system, once diagnosed, you can begin to better manage it.

Smokers are at an increased risk of having RA.

There are treatments for RA that can help reduce pain and prevent permanent damage. It is possible that you will need a more aggressive type of treatment since the problem is with your immune system.

Managing Both OA and RA

It is possible to have both of these potentially debilitating types of arthritis simultaneously. You should definitely visit your doctor to find out more about the type of arthritis you have – it may be something less common than OA or RA.

Pain management for both types (and many other types of arthritis) often includes specific types of exercise . Many of the exercises focus on stretching the affected areas and making the muscles around the joints stronger. Poster and different motion ranges are also used to help you stop using the areas as much to reduce the pain.

The following are frequently recommended to sufferers, though you should definitely consult your physician before starting any new exercise routine:

  •       Yoga
  •       Tai chi
  •       Swimming
  •       Low-impact aerobics
  •       Regular stretching

You may need to do a variation of certain poses and activities to compensate for the pain. Over time, the pain may decrease making it easier to exercise and increasing your mobility.

Most people feel stiff after sleeping. Getting accustomed to stretching when you wake can help work out some of the stiffness, making it easier to move once you get up. If the stiffness continues for over an hour, it is likely that you have RA.

Your diet is always important, but it can exacerbate or alleviate joint pain. By eating better, you can help to reduce pain and inflammation. 

About Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Wells is passionate about providing a personalized approach to pain management. Personal experience taught him just how impersonal some chiropractors are when working with their patients. To ensure that his patients received the best possible care, he founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab.

Dr. Wells earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Nevada, and his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College. With his practice, he works to provide more than just pain relief. By helping patients better understand how changes to their lives can improve their back strength, he gives them the tools to start healing.

Article written by and courtesy of:

Dr. Brent Wells.

Works Cited:

Materials provided by:

Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.

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Explain the Pain – Is It Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis. Retrieved April 14, 2019 from Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School:

Howley, K. and L. Esposito (March 20, 2019). What’s the Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis? Retrieved April 14, 2019 from U.S. News & World Report: Health:

Osteoporosis and Arthritis: Two Common but Different Conditions. Retrieved April 14, 2019 from National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:



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