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Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis

Updated on January 25, 2010

Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis - What the differences are and how to treat them

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are similar in the fact that they both affect joints and result in painful swelling and inflammation.  However, there are many differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  It’s important to understand the differences between the two because the treatment for each is very different.  Successful treatment of your joint pain relies on it.

Adequate research will help you to determine whether you have osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis.  There are numerous resources online that will help to identify the symptoms of osteoarthritis (or the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis for that matter) as well as help you find a treatment.  It’s important that you thoroughly research treatment options and always consult with your doctor before committing to a course of action.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition, meaning that the condition will slowly worsen over time.  With OA the cartilage surrounding the joint deteriorates and joint movement become increasingly stiff and painful.  While it can affect any joint, generally osteoarthritis affects the joints most used throughout the day: feet, knees, spine and hips.  The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are painful joints, swollen joints, the loss of flexibility as well as increased stiffness. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease where antibodies mistakenly attack the synovial membrane that surrounds the joint.  One of the easiest symptoms to recognize rheumatoid arthritis (vs. osteoarthritis) is that the joints affected are mainly in the hands or feet and that it happens symmetrically.  The most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis painful joints and swelling as well as inflammation that flares up.  In some cases, the joints can develop nodules that are thought to be a result of the breakdown of the synovial membrane.  Rheumatoid arthritis occurs in approximately 1% of the world’s population and is thought to be linked genetically. 

There are several treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis.  Generally, some sort of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as Advil or Aspirin is used for everyday joint pain.  Alternatively, there has been a lot of studies into fish oil and rheumatoid arthritis; it is believed that fish oil’s natural anti-inflammatory properties can replace NSAIDs.  There are other rheumatoid arthritis natural remedies.  In fact focusing on rheumatoid arthritis and diet can help to relieve symptoms.  Many people have had success in eliminating certain “suspect” foods from their diet to prevent flare ups and alleviate joint pain.  However, for very severe cases, it may be necessary to have surgery to help with the pain.

The treatments are much different for osteoarthritis (vs. rheumatoid arthritis).  Most cases of osteoarthritis are treated with hot and/or cold packs.  These serve to reduce swelling during inflammation and to increase blood flow to help with the stiffness.  Also therapies such as massaging the affected area or physical therapy can improve the joint function for osteoarthritis.  For severe cases of osteoarthritis a cortisone shot can be given.

One of the best ways to treat either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis is naturally through the use of diet and supplements.  A well balanced diet is important to maintain health and immune system function.  Omega 3 fatty acids (as found in fish oil or cod liver oil supplements) have been clinically shown to be anti-inflammatory and to take the place of Advil or Aspirin.  Glucosamine chondroitin is another supplement that has been shown to help with joint flexibility movement.  These supplements offer a way to treat arthritis naturally with no ill side effects.  Keep in mind that any supplement takes time to work, typically 10-12 weeks before showing any results.


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    • JTrempe profile image

      JTrempe 7 years ago from CA, USA

      As a physical therapist I've helped hundreds of people with both osteoarthritis and RA pain. Exercise is an important treatment aspect. If you don't know what exercises to do, seek help from a physical therapist who can help set up an appropriate exercise program for you.

      For free information and treatment recommendations for common joint pain conditions, visit