Vale Health Clinic

Osteoarthritis and Arthritis, Similar But Very Different

Arthritis and osteoarthritis are both part of the rheumatism family. The two medical conditions are different despite the similar names. The conditions have different symptoms, different developmental stages and require different treatments.


Osteoarthritis is a common condition occurring when the cartilage of the joints gradually wears down. This condition can impact every joint in the body. The most commonly affected joints are those bearing the majority of the body weight such as the feet and the knees. Joints frequently used on a daily basis are also impacted including the the joints in the hands. Age is the most common cause for this condition. Osteoarthritis is referred to as a silent disease due to the slow and often undetected progress.

Osteoarthritis often has no symptoms for numerous years. The disease is frequently discovered due to a bone fracture. A test for bone mineral density is used to diagnose this condition. The test accurately detects low bone density, is painless and safe. When the bones decrease in density, a fracture becomes much more likely. In the United States alone, in excess of 53 million individuals either have this disease or their risk is elevated because of low bone mass. This condition affects individuals all over the world. Osteoarthritis can change the posture of the individual, cause significant back pain and result in a reduction of height. The disease can cause a permanent or lengthy disability and make it extremely difficult or impossible to walk. When the joints are healthy, they are coated by a slippery yet smooth tissue called cartilage. This provides a coating for the bones enabling free movement against one another.

The development of osteoarthritis roughens the surface and thins the cartilage preventing the joints from moving smoothly. The repair process of the body attempts to repair the damage, often changing the joint’s structure. In some instances, the joint will still perform correctly without any stiffness or pain. Although this condition currently has no cure, there are medications, weight-bearing exercises, diets high in vitamin D and calcium and healthier lifestyles capable of decreasing or preventing the symptoms of the condition. This degenerative disease often results in the bones rubbing against one another, the development of bony spurs, a swelling of the joints and a loss of joint flexibility. The first symptom is usually pain after periods of immobility or exercise.


As opposed to osteoarthritis, the cause of arthritis is not normal wear and tear. Arthritis is an inflammation causing substances to secrete while destroying the joint’s structure gradually. The origin can be metabolic, genetic or infectious. Arthritis is a generalised term for any condition impacting the joints. A joint is an area where the bones meet including the knees, fingers, hips, wrists and toes. The two most common types are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. (RA) rheumatoid arthritis is considered an autoimmune inflammatory disease. This condition usually impacts the finger joints, wrists, shoulders, ankles, feet, thumbs, elbows and knees. This type of disease causes the body to release enzymes that attack the healthy tissues and destroy the joint’s linings. This can result in pain, stiffness, swelling, malformations and decreased movement.

Coping Strategies

Both osteoarthritis and arthritis have some of the same coping strategies such as exercise programs, rehabilitation and physical therapy. In most cases this includes exercises for the range of motion, strengthening, stretching and posture such as low-stress yoga, swimming, low-impact aerobics and tai chi. If the individual has osteoarthritis, certain activities must be avoided. This includes lifting heavy weights, twisting the spine and bending from the waist. If the individual has arthritis, compensation for the limited joint movements must be made. The majority of individuals with arthritis will eventually require pain management. Individuals with osteoarthritis usually only require pain relief after a fracture.

  • Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid is injected directly into the affected painful joint under ultrasound guidance. No medication or anaesthesia is needed for the procedure. The hyaluronic acid acts as lubrication to the joint and because of its viscosity it also has a shock absorption effect which helps protect the joints.

Causes and Symptoms

There is no specific answer for the cause of osteoarthritis. The development of the disease is dependent on certain factors including:

  • Most individuals do not develop osteoarthritis until their late forties at the earliest. The cause may be ageing, gaining weight, weakened muscles and the inability of the body to heal effectively.
  • Osteoarthritis is found more frequently in women with more severe symptoms.
  • Two of the key factors for osteoarthritis are excess weight or obesity. This is especially true for the joints bearing the most weight including the hips and the knees.
  • The chances of developing osteoporosis may be increased by the individual’s genes. Some of the rarest forms of this disease have been linked to a single gene mutation impacting collagen protein. This can cause the individual to develop this condition at a much younger age.
  • Individuals developing joint abnormalities as children or who were born with them can develop a more severe form of osteoarthritis at a younger age.
  • An operation or a serious injury to a joint may cause osteoarthritis in the future. Although normal exercising and activities will not cause this disease, the risk increases with a physically demanding career or repetitive and hard activities.

The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are stiffness and pain in the impacted joints. The pain is generally more severe at the end of the day or after the joint is moved. The symptoms usually vary depending on the current activity of the individual. The joints are often swollen or knobbly and hard. This is common in the finger joints due to the softness of the bone, the extra fluid in the joint and the joint lining becoming thicker. The movement of the joint is usually affected with crackling or grating sounds common with movement. This is referred to as crepitus. The muscles surrounding the joint often appear as wasted or thin. The joint may give out due to weakened muscles or a less stable structure.

Individuals working in specific occupations have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis due to the constant use of the wrists and elbows. Obesity is a high risk factor for osteoarthritis in the hips and the knees. The symptoms of this disease are often triggered by the weather and the diet of the individual, although they do not cause the condition. Changes in weather such as falling atmospheric pressure or rain can trigger severe pain. Specific foods can decrease or increase the level of pain in addition to the other symptoms. The highest risk factor for this condition is excess weight.

The most common symptom for both osteoarthritis and arthritis is joint pain. The pain from osteoarthritis usually occurs when the individual is moving the joint. When the joint is resting, the pain decreases. When the individual has arthritis, the opposite is true. The pain is usually decreased when the joint is moved. When the individual is sleeping or resting, the pain is generally worse. Individuals with arthritis often experience a feeling of warmth near the impacted joint, swelling and redness. Arthritis can result from hereditary influences. Individuals with a chemical imbalance or an immune disorder have an increased risk of developing arthritis. The risk factors for osteoarthritis include:

  • Not enough physical activity
  • A family history of osteoarthritis
  • Amenorrhea or the absence of menstrual periods
  • Smoking
  • Thin individuals with a small frame
  • A low intake of calcium
  • Being postmenopausal with early menopause
  • An excessive intake of alcohol
  • Using certain medications for a lengthy period of time including medications for lupus, thyroid issues, asthma and seizures.

A clinical assessment must be performed by a medical professional to diagnose either condition. This includes x-rays and blood tests to determine if the individual has arthritis or osteoarthritis. The test results will enable the medical professional to recommend the best possible treatment.


An accurate diagnosis is critical for both arthritis and osteoarthritis. Both conditions require a completely different treatment. The osteoarthritis diagnosis is partially based on the symptoms, their development and how they are impacting the life of the individual. During the physical examination, the medical professional will look for:

  • Tenderness around and over the joint
  • Excess fluid
  • Instability of the joint
  • Crepitus or a grating and creaking of the joint
  • A restriction of movement
  • A thinning or weakness of the joint’s supporting muscles
  • Bony swelling

Although there is no specific blood test for osteoporosis, the test is often performed to rule out different forms of arthritis. X-rays are also unable to diagnose the condition but are used to see if deposits of calcium are present in the joint. An MRI is infrequently performed on the knee to identify any possible issues with the bone or joint that may be responsible for the symptoms. In most cases, a specialist is not necessary to diagnose osteoarthritis. If the individual is having difficulty managing their condition, physiotherapy or occupational therapy may be recommended. If the arthritis has been severe for a long period of time, orthopaedic surgery or pain management may be necessary. Although there is no cure, there are treatments to help relieve the symptoms including:

  • Treatments for pain relief
  • Medications for pain relief
  • Supplements
  • Dieting to lose weight
  • Surgery
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Increased physical activity
  • Complementary medicine

Impact of Osteoarthritis

Every individual is impacted slightly differently by osteoarthritis. In most cases, the condition does not get any worse as time passes. Certain individuals reach a peak in their condition after a few years. The disease may then improve or the symptoms may remain the same. Some individuals experience different phases including moderate pain in the joint with occasional improvement. The amount of damage is not directly related to the pain factor. It is possible to have very little damage with mobility issues and severe pain or few symptoms with a lot of joint damage. If the symptoms are severe, the daily activities of the individual can be impacted including sleeping. Although any joint can be damaged by osteoarthritis, the most common symptoms impact the hips, knees, big toes and spine.

Osteoarthritis is commonly diagnosed in the knee. This is potentially due to the extreme stress the knees are exposed to, the weight of the body and the turns and twists common with daily activities. One or both hips are also commonly affected. The hip joint has a wide variety of different movements and takes a large portion of the body’s weight. Both men and women are equally diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the hips. Nodal osteoarthritis impacts the hands. This condition is much more common in women around menopause. The joints of the fingers and the base of the thumb are frequently impacted. Both of the joints of the shoulder can be affected by this condition. These joints are the glenohumeral joint and the acromioclavicular joint. The elbow usually remains unaffected unless there has been a serious injury.

Osteoarthritis often impacts the cartilage and the joints of the jaw. This area is more affected by wear due to the frequency with which the jaw is used. The condition generally begins earlier in the jaw than for the other joints. When this condition affects the foot, it is usually at the joint of the big toe or the mid-foot. The ankle is rarely affected by osteoarthritis. The condition can cause changes in the discs of the spine. This is referred to as spondylosis. This condition is common but does not usually cause pain in the neck or the back.

Exercising the Joints

A lot of individuals with osteoarthritis believe exercising will worsen the joint damage or increase their pain. The truth is if the joints are not used enough, the stiffness and pain may increase. Exercising the joints is extremely important. If the joints are swollen or painful afterwards, either warmth or an ice pack may offer relief. It is always a good idea to consult with a medical professional prior to beginning any kind of an exercise routine. It is just as important to begin slowly and increase the exercises gradually. The are several different kinds of exercises most often recommended. This includes:

  • Aerobic Activities: These exercises increase the heart rate and the depth of the breathing. This will burn a lot of calories, help the individual lose weight, improve sleep and help decrease pain.
  • Range of Movement: This will exercise the movements of the joints. These exercises are smooth, gentle and comfortable.
  • Strengthening: This type of exercise uses resistance to strengthen the joint’s supporting muscles. These exercises can be performed in water, with a resistance band or using light weights.
  • Exercises for Arthritis: Swimming, cycling, cross-trainers, exercise bikes and walking are all excellent for individuals with arthritis. The leg muscles can be strengthened by walking laps in a swimming pool’s shallow end.
  • Aquatic Therapy and Hydrotherapy Pools: These pools are warmer than the typical swimming pool. The water helps soothe away both pain and stiffness, supports the weight of the body and provides resistance to strengthen the muscles.

Exercises for Osteoarthritis

There are a variety of exercises recommended for osteoarthritis. This includes:

  • The Straight-Leg Raise: This exercise is performed sitting in a chair with the head level, shoulders back and back straight. The exercise begins by raising one leg and holding for ten seconds. The leg is then lowered slowly. This movement should be repeated ten times per leg. Once the individual is accustomed to the exercise, light ankle weights can be added.
  • The Hip Abduction: The individual stands and rests one hand on a chair back for support. The leg remains straight as it is lifted up and to the side. The leg is lowered slowly after five seconds. The body remains straight throughout the exercise. This should be repeated five times per side.
  • The Muscle Stretch: This exercise is performed daily while lying down, A rolled up towel is placed beneath one ankle. The other leg is bent at the knee. The muscles in the straight leg are used to push the knee towards the floor. This position is held for five seconds. This should be repeated five times per leg.
  • The Lying Straight-Leg Raise: This exercise can be performed either lying in bed or on the floor. One leg is bent at the knee. The other leg is kept straight while lifting the foot off of the bed or the floor. This position is held for five seconds prior to lowering the leg. This should be repeated five times per leg in the evening and in the morning.
  • The Quad: This exercise is performed either on a bed or the floor with both legs straight. The toes are pulled towards the individual while the knees are pressed towards the bed or the floor. The position is held for five seconds before relaxing. This should be repeated five times.
  • The Standing Arm Stretch: The individual stands while relaxing their arms at their sides. The arms are raised as far as possible and held in position between five and ten seconds before being lowered. This should be repeated five times. The arms can be raised to the side or in front. Performing both exercises will stretch additional muscles.
  • The Lying Arm Stretch: The individual lies on their back with their arms at their sides. The arms are raised upward as far as possible for five to ten seconds before being lowered to the sides. This should be repeated five times.

Pain Management

There are a variety of ways to manage the pain of both arthritis and osteoarthritis. This includes:

  • The Cane: If the individual is experiencing weakness in their leg, they may be afraid they are going to fall. Holding a cane in the opposite hand decreases the pressure placed on a painful hip or knee. The best option is to speak with a medical professional to ensure the opposite side is best for using the cane.
  • Heat and Cold: Wrapping a hot-water bottle in a towel for protection, then heating in a microwave often helps to decrease the pain. Wrapping an ice pack in a towel can decrease both discomfort and swelling. The ice can be applied to the joint for twenty minutes approximately every two hours.
  • Footwear: It is important to wear supportive and comfortable shoes. Not only will this help the feet, the other joints bearing weight will also feel relief. This includes the spinal joints, hips and knees. The best shoes to wear have a lot of room at the ball of the feet and the toes, soft uppers and a soft and thick sole. If there are severe problems concerning the feet, the medical professional can offer excellent recommendations.
  • Supports: There are a wide variety of supports, braces and splints available on the market specifically for painful joints. If the alignment of a joint has been affected by osteoarthritis, these supports are often ideal. It is important to talk to a medical profession prior to purchasing a support because it is critical the support matches the needs of the individual.
  • Posture for Arthritis: If the individual has arthritis, good posture is important because it will decrease the amount of strain being placed on the joints. Correct posture helps enable the body to relax. The individual should be aware of their posture when walking, driving, at work and even while watching television.

Living with Arthritis or Osteoarthritis

For the majority of individuals, the amount of pain they experience will vary from day to day. The biggest mistake most people make is doing too much when they have a good day. Unfortunately, this often increases the pain later on. It is important to proceed slow and easy, take plenty of breaks and switch between the easier and the more difficult tasks. Sometimes a task can be performed differently with less or no pain. Arthritis and osteoarthritis can impact numerous areas of the individuals life. The best solution is often to do things differently or to ask for help. Both of these conditions have physical and emotional symptoms. The mood can be negatively impacted by severe pain for a long period of time consistently interrupting a daily routine. In many cases, a medical professional can make recommendations to help the individual live a better life with their condition.

For further information or to book your appointment with one of our chiropractors please phone 01892 543029


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