Learn more about how to treat arthritis

The Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis is a painful disease caused by joint damage or inflammation.

Joints connect your bones, allowing your body to move and bend. When there’s damage to the cartilage surrounding a joint, everyday movements can be painful.

For more information about osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, visit UPMC.com/Ortho, or call 1-866-987-ORTHO (6784) to make an appointment.

Learn the difference between the two major types of arthritis and how best to treat them.

Types of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two main types of arthritis. Both conditions have similar symptoms, all of which affect your joints. Shared symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Redness of the skin
  • Swelling
  • Decreased range of motion

These symptoms make it difficult to take part in everyday activities like walking, lifting, bending, and even sitting.

Underlying Causes of Arthritis

The main difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is the underlying cause behind the joint pain symptoms.

Osteoarthritis: Causes and Risk Factors

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, usually affects the neck, lower back, hips, knees, feet, and fingers.

A breakdown of cartilage, the spongy material that cushions your joints, typically causes osteoarthritis. Risk factors include:

  • Aging: The risk of osteoarthritis increases with age
  • Injury: Injuries to your joints, often due to sports, may increase your risk of osteoarthritis
  • Genetics: You have a higher risk of getting osteoarthritis if it runs in your family
  • Being overweight: Increased weight puts added stress on weight-bearing joints

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Causes and Risk Factors

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, which means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, often in the joints.

Over time, it can also damage cartilage and bone. Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women and people of advanced age. This type of arthritis usually affects the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and feet.

Arthritis Treatment Options: Physical Therapy, Cortisone Shots, and More

If you believe you have arthritis, your doctor will ask you questions about your medical and family history, perform a physical exam, and possibly order x-rays, MRI scans, or other imaging tests.

Once you have a diagnosis, treatment will depend on the specific type of arthritis you have, the severity of your pain, and where your arthritis is located. The goals of treatment, however, are the same — to control pain, slow the progression of the condition, and maintain your ability to move and function.

While doctors cannot reverse the effects of arthritis, in some cases they can control them.

Treatment options for people with osteoarthritis may include:

  • Taking nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to treat inflammation and pain
  • Receiving physical therapy or occupational therapy
  • Receiving injections of cortisone or hyaluronic acid to provide lubrication to the joints
  • Undergoing joint replacement surgery

For people with rheumatoid arthritis, treatment may include:

  • Taking NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, for pain and inflammation
  • Taking steroid medications to reduce inflammation
  • Taking disease-modifying, antirheumatic drugs to slow the progression of the disease
  • Undergoing surgery to remove the inflamed membrane, repair damaged tendons, or replace joints