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  • Joint pain, stiffness, cracking, swelling or tenderness
  • Bumps or bony outgrowths in fingers or toes
  • Joint deformity or limping

OA vs. RA: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to arthritis, there are two different types that patients seek treatment for: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


So, what’s the difference?


Put simply, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis that comes predominately from the normal aging process. It occurs when the protective cartilage that serves as a cushion to the ends of your bones wears down over time. Although any joint is technically fair game, it most commonly affects the joints in your hands, knees, neck, lower back and hips. 

The pain can be severe and be exacerbated by weather. Other common symptoms include:

  • Joint stiffness, cracking, swelling or tenderness
  • Bumps or bony outgrowths in fingers or toes
  • Joint deformity or limping

Treatment for osteoarthritis includes:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics
  • Prescription medication to manage pain and inflammation
  • Physical exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Weight loss
  • Ice packs and menthol rubs

In cases where conservative treatment is not successful, arthroscopy and joint replacement can be performed.


The main difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is the cause behind the joint symptoms. Osteoarthritis is caused by mechanical wear and tear on joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the body’s joints

Here are the basic differences:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) typically begins later in life whereas Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) can begin at any stage.
  • OA has a slow progression timeline whereas RA evolves relatively rapidly (from weeks to months)
  • RA often affects small and large joints on both sides of the body (symmetrical), such as both hands, both wrists or elbows, or the balls of both feet.
  • OA symptoms often begin on one side of the body and may spread to the other side. They begin gradually and are often limited to one set of joints – usually the finger joints closest to the fingernails or the thumbs, large weight-bearing joints (hips, knees), or the spine.
  • Joints with RA are painful, swollen and stiff while, with OA, joints ache and may be tender but have little or no swelling.
  • With OA, morning stiffness lasts less than one hour but can last longer with RA.
  • Frequent fatigue is common with RA, as well as a general feeling of being ill. With OA, there are no whole-body symptoms.

While there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, physiotherapy and medication can help slow the progression of the disease. Most cases can be managed with a class of medications called anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS).

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