Joint Pain: Could It Be Osteoporosis or Arthritis? [Infographic]


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While Arthritis and Osteoporosis share many common features, they are, in fact, different conditions and a lot of people can’t tell the difference. This article will try to make it clear what is similar and what is different about both ailments.

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Rebecca over at GeriatricNursing.org to help educate baby boomers, seniors, and the elderly on potential causes of joint pain. I received no compensation for this post. 

Osteoporosis

Senior man taking care of his disabled wife.

In Osteoporosis the bones in the human body lose their natural density which renders them too fragile, thus they break too easily. This decrement in bone tissue can cause many other problems besides fractures. Loss of weight, back pain, and change in bodily posture are the most common. If it gets worse or goes untreated it can undermine a patient’s ability to walk and/or prolong disability.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  1. Thinness or small frame.
  2. A family history that include this illness.
  3. Menopause.
  4. Amenorrhea (the lack of a normal period).
  5. Protracted use of medications such as those used to treat seizures, thyroid or other hormone deficiency, asthma, or lupus.
  6. Decalcification.
  7. Lack of proper exercise.
  8. Smoking.
  9. Drinking too much alcohol.

This is a very sneaky disease as it’s very difficult to diagnose at the early stages. It can go unnoticed for years because it doesn’t show itself until a bone is broken, and by then it’s already advanced. The way to diagnose this condition is by a doing a bone mineral density test which is painless, safe, unintrusive, and the best-known way to detect deficient density in bones.

This is a chronic condition; there is no cure. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed a number of medical drugs to treat and prevent osteoporosis. But living healthily is crucial. This means to eat right (by ingesting enough calcium and Vitamin D), to keep your control your weight and exercise properly.

Arthritis

elderly woman with hand arthritis grimace in pain.
Arthritis causes daily pain in any joint it effects but there are ways to cope with arthritis.

Arthritis is not a single condition but a family of illnesses in which the tissues around the joints become inflamed or damaged. Joints, of course, are those places in the body in which different bones come together such as the hips, wrists, toes, fingers, or the knees. There are two general types of arthritis:

Osteoarthritis

OA is painful and degenerative. It tends to involve the small joints of the hands, hips, knees, neck, and the lower back. This condition usually appears in joints that have been worn out by overuse brought about by repeating the same activity over and over or from moving around with excess body weight. Endless repetitions end up damaging the cartilage that shields the bones from each other. When the cartilage is gone, the bones rub against each other, which creates the sensation of friction that feels like grating. This causes flexibility to be reduced, bone spurs to start developing, and swelling at the joints. OA’s first sign is joint pain that becomes worse after exercise in such a way that can even lead to immobility in the worst scenarios. It’s treated with analgesics mainly (not steroids which are a common treatment of inflammatory conditions).

Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is a condition that does not come about because of wear and tear but because of a failure in the autoimmune system. In this ailment, the autoimmune system starts releasing enzymes that destruct the joint’s linings. It also attacks various joints (especially the smaller ones). Function and movement are reduced but it also causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and malformation. Other systematic symptoms can also occur such as lung inflammation (pleurisy), subcutaneous nodules (bumps under the skin), anemia, weight loss, eye inflammation, fatigue, and fever.

Both medical conditions are very different in their root causes but because they both are manifested in the body’s joints, and because the names are relatively similar, it’s not obvious for laypersons how to differentiate them. But they are different, they have different symptoms, causes, ways to be diagnosed and treatments.

Coping Strategies

Once it’s clear that these are two very different illnesses, it bears saying that they do share many coping strategies. All those strategies are simply about living healthily. Eating right, keeping your weight under control, exercising in the right way and quantity. For instance, low-impact aerobics, tai chi, swimming and low-stress yoga have been known to help with both diseases. But you should always get professional healthcare to get the proper diagnosis, treatment, and medicines if they should be needed.

Pain management strategies are also quite relevant for both conditions (although not as common in osteoporosis). In this regard, it’s more important for patients to get the right guidance from a physician instead of taking things into their own hands.

Arthritis – An infographic by GeriatricNursing.org

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