Arthritis is a word often used to brand diseases affecting joints and bones, but did you know there are more than 100 different illnesses that can affect your musculoskeletal health?


Two of the most common conditions under the ‘arthritis’ umbrella are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but what’s the difference?

Osteoarthritis is very common, affecting millions of people worldwide. Osteoarthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage between the joints - the soft part that cushions your movement. As the cartilage wears down, movement becomes painful and over time, bones begin to rub against one another other causing pain and the eventual loss of mobility.

Osteoarthritis generally affects weight bearing joints; the hips, knees and lower back.

Unfortunately there’s no known cause or cure for osteoarthritis, but we do know some of the risk factors.  They include:

•    Age – General wear on your joints over years
•    Weight – Risk is higher for people whose joints carry more weight
•    Injury and repetitive strain – Long term rigorous or over-use of joints can increase risk
•    Genetics – As with most diseases often plays a role
•    Muscle weakness – Stronger muscles may support the joints better over time

In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory illness and an autoimmune disease. 

The associated pain, inflammation and immobility of joints is caused by an overreaction of the immune system. 

Like other inflammatory illnesses, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks a potential threat – a virus or bacteria – but for some reason does not ‘switch off’, and begins to attack healthy tissue too.  

In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, this causes a painful build up of fluid in the joints. It can occur in any joint of the body and over time, may damage joints, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Rheumatoid arthritis also sometimes causes deformities or disability.

Unlike osteo arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is not a disease of the elderly and has been known to affect people as young as 30.

What can be done to reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis?

If you are suffering rheumatoid arthritis, it's vital you receive care from your physician. In addition, and as with most inflammatory illnesses, improved diet and lifestyle is highly recommended to assist your treatement. This includes:

•    Avoid highly processed foods
•    Avoid animal fats
•    Increase fruit, vegetable and antioxidant intake
•    Increase healthy fats and oils (from nuts, seeds, olives etc.)
•    Engage in physical activity

Now you know the difference – what’s next?

Osteo arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis affect such a large part of the population that medical and natural treatments for these conditions are among the highest selling in the world with literally hundreds of options available. 

As outlined in this article, healthy lifestyle choices are an excellent place to start preventing and managing osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, and your health practitioner or therapist is the best person to help find a treatment plan for you.