Arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis & Osteoarthritis: What’s the Difference?

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. The Greek word “arthro’ meaning joint and “itis” meaning inflammation have led to this word arthritis being coined.
Some symptoms that may suggest that you have arthritis are progressive stiffness and joint pain on weight bearing with gradual onset.  Arthritis can differ in terms of severity from person to person depending on several factors such as lifestyle, weight and genetics, with the biggest one being age. It can affect multiple joints such as the wrists, fingers, knees and hips.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

This type arthritis is the most common type of arthritis. OA is predominately caused from excessive wear and tear due to accumulation of stress on the affected joints and or repetitive mechanical activities. This results in the wearing off of joint cartilages which normally acts as a cushion between the bones to allow smooth and painfree movement. Without the cartilage, the bone will start to rub against another bone of the joint which then initiate the inflammation, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. When a patient is severely suffering from osteoarthritis, the patient may not be able to fully bend or extend his/her joints leading to a decrease in function and mobility.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

RA accounts for about 10% of people who suffer from arthritis. It is classified as an auto-immune disease which means that the body’s own immune system starts to attack the joints causing chronic joint inflammation. The difference between OA and RA is that RA is a systemic disease which is independent of your physical activity. Damage to the joint cartilage or tissue is solely because of prolonged inflammation. This autoimmune disease can also attack other vital body parts, such as lungs, eyes etc.


  • Age of the onset of the diseases; OA is more commonly observed in an elderly population where as RA can occur at any age.
  • Types of joints get affected; OA affects weightbearing joints; whereas RA usually affects the smaller joints such as the balls of our feet, fingers, elbows or wrists, and it also tends to be bilateral.
  • Joint symptoms; Although common symptoms include joints stiffness, swelling and pain, RA may also cause severe deformity in the joints e.g as seen in the hands and fingers as described as herben nodes and swan neck deformity
  • Diagnosis; OA is diagnosed following a in depth subjective and objective assessment, followed by possible X-rays illustrating degeneration of the joint lines. In addition to the usual assessments, the diagnosis of RA requires a blood test which looks for a specific rheumatoid factor to be considered positive.
  • Speed of onset; Both diseases have insidious onset and are degenerative in nature, however RA patients are characterised by cycles of flare ups and rest periods whereas OA tend to be activity dependant.

With physiotherapy, we can help you by minimising inflammation and preventing flare ups by designing a personalised exercise program to protect your joint. The Pain Relief Practice is also a leader in incorporating joint repair supplements with physiotherapy to ensure the optimum outcome.

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