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May 25, 2021 3 min read

Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints. The two of the most common forms of arthritis are Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis. Although maybe the same as it both involve the joints, the two are different in many aspects.

The Similarities:

Both RA and OA share the same inflammatory symptoms, including joint pain and tenderness, swelling, warmth, and redness as well as joint stiffness and limitation of motions

The Main Difference:

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory joint disease which occurs at most any age and affects more than just the joints. It’s an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the joint as it sees the synovial lining of the joints as a threat, causing inflammation. On the other hand, osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint condition typically seen in older adults but may also occur in younger individuals. OA is related to mechanical wear and tear of the joint cartilage. The wearing down of the joint cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other, causing pain and inflammation.

Other Differences:

Age and Speed of Onset:

RA symptoms may begin very rapidly time in life and worsen over several weeks or months. It may initially present with flu-like symptoms of fatigue, fever, and joint aches more than just joint pain. Osteoarthritis tends to develop slowly and gradually over several years as the joint cartilage wears away.

Joint Symptoms:

Both RA and OA results in inflammation, although this is much pronounced in RA. Specifically, swelling is much greater in RA.

Affected Joints:

Both OA and RA can affect any joints of the body, where OA typically involves only one joint, while RA commonly affects multiple joints. RA affects the joints symmetrically, which means one will experience symptoms on both sides of the body at the same time. It usually begins in the smaller joints of the body, typically the finger joints, then progressing to include larger joints such as the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands, and joints of the feet. OA affects the joints asymmetrically and often begins on one side of the body, then spreading to the other side. Symptoms begin gradually and usually involving the finger joints near the tips or the thumbs, hips, knees, or the spine.

Morning Stiffness:

Morning stiffness in RA usually lasts longer than in OA. Morning stiffness in OA usually resolves after periods of activity, while in RA it can take hours to subside.

Systemic Affectation:

RA is considered a systemic disease and thus presents with systemic symptoms, including frequent fatigue,  fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and rheumatoid nodules. OA does not involve systemic symptoms but can develop bone spurs or bone abnormalities, different from rheumatoid nodules.

Treating RA and OA

The primary goals in treating OA and RA is:

  • Pain reduction
  • Improved function
  • Minimize damage to your joints
  • Slow the progression of the disease


There’s no known cure for either RA or OA, and there’s no way to reverse the joint damage. Treatments for both diseases aim to reduce pain and keep the joint as working as possible. Anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid medications are generally effective for both OA and RA. But with RA, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or the drugs that may suppress the immune system can slow or stop the body from attacking itself.

Exercises and Weight Loss Management:

Keeping a healthy weight through diet and exercise can reduce the load and stress on your joints. For both OA and RA, exercises not only slash the extra fat in the body but can also strengthen the muscles that support your joints. In RA, exercise has been shown to reduce disease activity.

Physical Therapy and Pain Modalities:

Exercise protocols can be tailored based on the symptoms, severity, and progression of the disease, focusing on improving joint flexibility, muscular strength, and balance. Pain treatment modalities may include TENS, cold and hot therapies, as well as vibration therapy.

The Takeaway:

There’s no cure for RA or OA. If you already have it, there’s nothing left to do but to keep your muscles strong so that they may protect your joints from deteriorating more. If you’re in pain because of arthritis and cannot perform even the simplest exercises, there are treatments available to manage the symptoms of both conditions. Contact a GP if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of RA or OA so they can refer you to a specialist to help manage your condition and find the treatment that works best for you. But don’t forget to try Recovapro!