Many people begin to suffer from joint pain over time, usually due to some form of arthritis. In actuality, there are many different forms of arthritis; however, the two most common are osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms associated with different types of arthritis are similar, making them easy to confuse. Truthfully, few people have been properly educated on the onset, symptomatology, and risk factors associated with each different type of arthritis. Hopefully, after reading this article, it will be easier for you to decide which may be responsible for your joint pain.

How to Tell the Difference

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are arthritic diseases that cause joint pain and neither is decidedly better or worse than the other. Both disease cause stiffness, swelling, and limited movement in the joints; the difference lies in where and when the symptoms begin.

  • When It Begins – With both of these types of arthritis, they appear at different stages in a person’s life. Rheumatoid arthritis can begin anytime in life, but osteoarthritis almost always begins later in life.  Age is a factor most often overlooked, but is important.  If someone has had joint pain for most of their life, it is more likely to be rheumatoid arthritis than osteoarthritis.
  • Symptoms – This is an area where people get confused, making it a mess to explain to doctors. Rheumatoid arthritis causes joints to be swollen, extremely stiff, and painful to the touch with discomfort being noticeable. With osteoarthritis, the joints are achy and tender, but the swelling is significantly less noticeable and isn’t usually painful when touched.
  • Morning Stiffness – The first thing a person notices when they get up is the stiffness in their joints but it goes away quickly. This is true for osteoarthritis; stiffness typically lasts less than an hour and seldom interferes with daily routine. With rheumatoid arthritis, morning stiffness can last much longer than one hour, often delaying or preventing daily routine.
  • Overall Body System Symptoms – With both of these types of arthritis, the body will feel some discomfort, although one is more pervasive than the other. The biggest difference is the frequent fatigue and overall feeling of being sick with rheumatoid arthritis, especially during changes in weather.  Those with osteoarthritis will feel symptoms, especially during weather changes, but they’ll be in isolated areas of the body.

Some Other Things to Think About

The symptoms for both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are different yet very similar, making misdiagnosis especially common.  For those struggling with their weight, osteoarthritis may occur later in life but they can also get rheumatoid arthritis at any time.  Both types of arthritis are found more commonly in women than men and both are more prevalent in older adults. The key is making sure to tell the doctor the correct symptoms so they can diagnose correctly.


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About the Author: Victoria K. Stickley is a copywriter, editor, and senior content manager based in the Dallas area. Her graduate education in counseling and research has helped immensely in her writing as well as the care she provides for her grandparents. She currently provides support and resources to senior care websites as she learns and experiences senior care first-hand.