There is one major difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease; rheumatoid arthritis is not — it’s an autoimmune disease. This means that osteoarthritis occurs as cartilage in the joints wears down, while rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age. Yet both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are more common in older people.
Symptoms of both conditions are similar. However, rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic condition. This means it can affect your entire body. Osteoarthritis is concentrated in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints and causes inflammation that can affect other areas of the body, like tissue and organs. Osteoarthritis is isolated to the joints affected by injury, cartilage breakdown, and the natural aging process.
While both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are common in the hands and fingers, rheumatoid arthritis tends to begin in smaller joints. It is also symmetrical, which means it occurs in both sides of the body. But osteoarthritis is less likely to be symmetrical. It often starts in larger joins like hips and knees.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. But there are several pain management options available to help reduce your discomfort and improve mobility. You don’t need to live with untreated osteoarthritis a minute longer.
FAQs About Osteoarthritis
Continue reading below to learn more about osteoarthritis, or click on one of these links to go directly to the information that interests you.
- What is osteoarthritis?
- What are the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis?
- What are the four stages of osteoarthritis?
- What causes osteoarthritis?
- What are risk factors for developing osteoarthritis?
- How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
- How is osteoarthritis treated?
- What are new treatments available for osteoarthritis?
- Can I treat my osteoarthritis at home?
- When should I see a specialist for osteoarthritis?
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It impacts millions of people worldwide. Osteoarthritis occurs most frequently in the knee, hand, shoulder, or hip joints and often leads to pain in these areas.
Osteoarthritis is frequently referred to as degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. This condition occurs when the protective cartilage in a joint breaks down. Cartilage is the tissue that enables frictionless joint motion. When the cartilage breaks down, bone will rub on bone. This leads to changes in the bone and deterioration of the connective tissue of the joint. Damage to the joints caused by osteoarthritis is irreversible.
Osteoarthritis can have a debilitating effect, as the bone breakdown often leads to pain, stiffness, and swelling. This can result in reduced function and disability.
What are the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis?
Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis often develop slowly and worsen over time.
- Pain or aching. Affected joints may hurt during or after movement.
- Stiffness. Affected joints may be noticeably stiff after waking up or after being inactive for a period of time.
- Loss of range of motion or flexibility. It may be difficult to move the joint through its full range of motion.
- Swelling. Tissue inflammation around the affected joint may cause swelling.
- Tenderness. The affected joint may feel tender when applying light pressure to or around it.
- Grating sensation. There may be a grating sensation when using the joint, or a popping or crackling while using the joint.
- Bone spurs. Extra bits of bone, which may feel like hard lumps, can form around the affected joint.
What are the four stages of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis can typically be broken down into four stages:
- Stage 0. This is normal joint function with no osteoarthritis.
- Stage 1/Minor. This stage marks minor wear and tear on the joint and subtle bone spur growth may be present. There is little to no pain or discomfort. Supplements may be helpful in preventing additional cartilage breakdown.
- Stage 2/Mild. More advanced wear and tear and bone spur growth may be present. Initial joint pain symptoms may occur with stiffness or discomfort in the mornings, after sitting for long periods, or after exercise. Strength training, exercise, and supportive braces may be prescribed.
- Stage 3/Moderate. Erosion of the cartilage around the joint is obvious, and bone spurs are more pronounced. Pain is frequent, particularly when walking, running, kneeling, or engaging in other movements. Popping and snapping sounds may occur when moving. Anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and pain relief treatment may be recommended. Lifestyle changes like weight loss may also help with pain relief. Steroid injections may be recommended.
- Stage 4/Severe. Breakdown of cartilage gives way to chronic inflammation, increased pain, and greater discomfort. More bone spurs can develop, increasing pain. Daily activities like walking and chores may become more difficult. While steroid injections may be helpful, surgical options are often explored at this stage.
What causes osteoarthritis?
Damage or breakdown of joint cartilage between bones causes osteoarthritis. Cartilage normally allows frictionless joint motion. When the cartilage wears down, bone will rub on bone. This causes changes to the bone and deterioration of the connective tissue of the joint. It also causes inflammation of the joint lining.
What are risk factors for developing osteoarthritis?
There are several risk factors for osteoarthritis.
Risk factors include:
- Injury or overuse. Joint injury or overuse can cause damage and create a risk of osteoarthritis in that joint.
- Age. The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with age.
- Sex. Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, especially after age 50.
- Weight. Obesity can also be a risk factor, as extra weight puts added stress on weight-bearing joints. Fat tissue also produces proteins that can cause harmful inflammation in and around joints.
- Genetics. People with family members with osteoarthritis are more likely to develop the condition.
- Bone deformities. People born with malformed joints or defective cartilage are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
- Certain metabolic diseases. Conditions like diabetes or hemochromatosis (a condition where your body has too much iron) may increase your likelihood of developing osteoarthritis.
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
Osteoarthritis is diagnosed by a physician who will review your symptoms thoroughly, complete a physical examination, and analyze any X-rays and lab tests that may be ordered. You should see a pain management specialist at Neurosurgery One if you have joint pain or stiffness that is not improving with your current care plan.
How is osteoarthritis treated?
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, there are many options available for joint pain relief.
Symptoms may be treated with:
- Increased physical activity
- Physical therapy
- Weight loss
- Medications, including pain relievers
- Supportive devices such as crutches or canes
- Spinal injections
- Surgery, if other treatment options have not been effective
Based on the underlying cause of your degenerative osteoarthritis, like if your condition is due to a degenerative disc, you may benefit from additional treatment options.
What are new treatments available for osteoarthritis?
Spinal cord stimulators have been shown to provide relief for chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis. Spinal cord stimulation works by sending tiny electrical impulses to the spinal cord to conceal chronic pain. Electrodes are placed in the epidural space, and a small generator is then connected to the electrodes. Spinal cord stimulation is a type of neuromodulation, which describes treatment that uses electrical signals or medications to change nerve activity.
Spinal injections can be effective in pain management for osteoarthritis. The injections can be made right into the spot of pain.
Can I treat my osteoarthritis at home?
While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are several self-management strategies you may try to alleviate pain and side effects caused by the condition.
Some self-management treatment options include:
- Increased physical activity
- Weight loss
- Over-the-counter pain relief
- Joint protection to relieve stress on the joints
Acupuncture has been shown to provide benefits for knee pain. Supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids have also helped some people with osteoarthritis improve their symptoms.
When should I see a specialist for osteoarthritis?
Consider seeing one of our pain management physicians at Neurosurgery One for osteoarthritis if you have pain in your back, neck, knee, shoulder, hand, or hip joint pain — or stiffness that is not improving. We are also happy to provide a second opinion about your current diagnosis or treatment plan.