Osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis – what’s the difference?

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – what’s the difference?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is often known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an auto-immune disease. It mainly affects joints and tendons but can also affect other organs and structures in the body.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Symptoms of OA can include joint pain, stiffness, knobbly and creaky joints, and tight and wasted muscles (around your affected joints).

OA usually develops gradually over time. Many people over 50 will have some signs of OA. It is frequently found in the hands (especially the fingertips), knees, hips, feet and spine. OA can affect one or several joints.

In OA, joint cartilage breaks down. Cartilage is the cushioning between bones. When that breaks down bones rub together causing damage, pain and stiffness. Your body attempts to repair the damaged bones but instead, it ends up producing abnormal and uneven bone. That is why osteoarthritic joints tend to become knobbly.

It is not known what causes OA but age is a factor. Other factors known to increase the risk of developing OA include: family history, being overweight, previous joint injury, repetitive overuse of your joints and certain diseases.

How can osteopathy help with OA?

There is no permanent cure for OA but osteopathic treatment techniques, like soft tissue massage, gentle stretching of overly tight muscles and gentle articulation of restricted joints, can be very relieving for the pain and stiffness of OA. Osteopaths can also assess your posture and alignment to identify and aggravating factors. We can offer advice on how to minimise unnecessary strain on your joints. We can also advise you on appropriate exercises to help you to help yourself.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

RA affects different people in different ways. Symptoms include: painful, warm, swollen joints; morning stiffness that may last for hours; firm bumps under the skin (rheumatoid nodules), fatigue; fever and weight loss. With RA, you can have flare-ups and then times when the disease is inactive.

RA tends to affect your small joints first, for example your hands, wrists and feet. As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to your knees, ankles, hips and shoulders. In most cases, symptoms occur symmetrically i.e. in the same joints on both sides of your body.

Over time, RA can cause your joints to deform and shift out of place. This is because RA affects the lining of the joints, causing painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and join deformity.

RA is an autoimmune disease. In other words, the immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues. So in addition to causing joint problems, RA sometimes affects other organs of the body, such as your skin, eyes, lungs and blood vessels. Anaemia is common with RA.

It is not known why RA occurs. People of any age can develop it but it is most common between the ages of 30 and 50, and among women. Certain genes may trigger the development.

How can osteopathy help RA?

Physical treatment is not recommended when your disease is in its active phase (when you are having a flare-up). However, after the acute inflammatory processes have died down, osteopathy can be helpful to improve the range of pain free movement in your joints and to reduce tightness in the muscles surrounding your affected joints. Osteopaths can also help you by advising you on posture to minimise strain on your joints, and exercises to better support your joints.

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