What's the Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Arthritis isn’t a single disease, but in fact a collective identity for over 100 conditions that cause pain and swelling in the joints of your body. Over 54 million adult Americans are affected by some form of the disease, usually osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, the two most common types. 

For all their similar characteristics, they’re very different conditions, though both can be painful while limiting your ability to move.


The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) is a wear-and-tear type of condition, and it has 10 times as many sufferers as rheumatoid arthritis, the next most common type. OA is usually slow to develop, with age being one of the risk factors for the disease. This form of arthritis can form spontaneously, or it may be triggered by an injury to a joint.

Typically, OA affects specific joints, as opposed to a whole-body condition. Often, it starts in one joint, on one side of the body, before spreading later. Joints may ache and stiffen, but swelling is generally minimal. You’ll likely experience stiff joints for the first hour of the day and perhaps later or after periods of exertion.

Rheumatoid arthritis

An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) strikes when your body turns against itself. The immune system attacks the synovial membrane, a joint lining that holds in the fluids that nourish and lubricate joints. Onset of RA is typically fast, over weeks or months rather than years, and it can strike people of any age. RA favors women over men.

If you have RA, you may notice patterns. It often attacks symmetrically, so it may affect both hands or the balls of your feet on both sides. As well as aching and stiffness, swelling is more common with RA. Unlike OA, which tends to affect larger, weight-bearing joints, OA hits both small and large joints. You may also experience overall fatigue and feelings of being ill when you have RA.

Treating OA and RA

Since each of these forms of arthritis are degenerative and incurable, pain management factors heavily into most patients’ treatments. However, effective results may take some trial and error, as the pain you experience may be dependent on which joints are affected and how severely they have deteriorated.

A class of medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are an option to slow or stop the progression of RA, and these may be used in conjunction with biologic response modifiers. Physical therapy and lifestyle changes including losing weight are often effective at reducing pain and improving mobility, but again, much depends on the joints involved and the progression of the disease.

Dr. James Nassiri at Westside Pain Specialists is an arthritis treatment specialist. When the effects of any form of arthritis start to interfere with your everyday life, it’s time to contact Dr. Nassiri and his team. They will review your medical history and evaluate your current health to help develop an effective arthritis management program that fits your life and lifestyle. 

Call either the Beverly Hills or Rancho Cucamonga office at your convenience to schedule a personal consultation. The time to get arthritis under control is now, so call today. You can also send Dr. Nassiri and the team a message here on the website.

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