Arthritis and osteoarthritis: what is the difference and how to treat it?

Joint pain with arthritis

Arthritis and osteoarthritis are complex diseases affecting the joints. Due to such symptoms, many people think that these diseases are identical, but they are not. Arthritis and osteoarthritis differ in the causes of the disease, the nature of its development, the area of ​​damage and require completely different treatment.

Suppose two people visit a doctor complaining of joint pain. One is diagnosed with arthritis and the other with osteoarthritis. While both patients sat in line, they had time to discuss their health issues.

It turned out that their symptoms are very similar: the joints hurt, do not bend / unfold with full force, do not give rest either at night or during the day. Even the diagnoses agree, but they are different. What is the difference between arthritis and osteoarthritis if both diseases affect the joints?

What is arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammatory disorder of the joint. It is always preceded by damage to bone or cartilage tissue by some factor.

Biologically active substances are released from the destroyed cells, which cause an inflammatory reaction. The vessels in the lesion dilate, filling with blood: because of this, immune cells enter the joint tissue to fight the damaging factor.

At the same time, the liquid part of the blood leaves the vascular bed and swelling forms, which limits the area of ​​inflammation. In this way the body is protected from major damage from bacteria, foreign bodies and chemicals.

After complete or partial elimination of the pathogen, the healing mechanism begins. If the damage was minor, then normal tissue function is restored. Deep defects heal through a scar - an area of ​​coarse connective tissue that does not perform the normal function of an organ.

Arthritis goes through all these stages:

  • change - damage;
  • exudation - formation of edema;
  • spread - healing.


The causes of the disease are great, we will list the main ones:

  • streptococcal infection (tonsillitis, scarlet fever) often causes a complication - rheumatism;
  • aggressive autoantibodies - proteins that the body produces to fight its own tissues; such a situation develops with an error in the immune defense, which is why it perceives the joints as a foreign element - rheumatoid arthritis;
  • impaired purine metabolism leads to deposition of uric acid crystals in the joints - gout;
  • allergic reactions may include joint tissue with the development of an inflammatory reaction - allergic arthritis;
  • prolonged use of some drugs causes inflammation (isoniazid, D-penicillins, hydralazine, holes) - drug arthritis;
  • bacteria are transmitted in the blood or during surgery - infectious arthritis;
  • viral or bacterial infection from any location can indirectly affect the joint tissues - this is reactive arthritis;
  • acute trauma - recent injury (blow, bruise, rupture of the capsule).
Inflammation of the joint between the thumb and foot in arthritis


The disease is characterized by an acute initial stage, ie against the background of complete health, a person has acute joint pain. Autoimmune forms are characterized by symmetrical damage to small joints - interphalangeally on the fingers, wrist, elbow.

Gout in most cases begins with inflammation of the joint between the thumb and foot. Bacterial and reactive arthritis usually affects large joints on one side: the knee, the hip joint, the sacral joint (at the junction of the spine with the pelvis).

Rheumatism develops against the background of fever and general weakness, usually preceded by angina. Severe inflammation of the bone, cartilage and synovial membrane can occur with fever, general intoxication: headache, weakness, loss of appetite.

The skin above the joint turns red and feels hotter than the other areas. Externally it looks swollen and increases in volume. If the lesion occurred on one side only, then the difference between a healthy and a diseased limb can be seen.

Restricted movement is associated with swelling and pain. If the joint cavity is slightly inflamed, then it works almost completely. In case of a pronounced pathological reaction, the entire synovial cavity may be filled with fluid - in this case, mobility is severely limited.


Treatment is performed by a general practitioner, rheumatologist or traumatologist - if the cause is mechanical damage. The therapy is aimed at eliminating the provoking factor and stopping the inflammation.

Bacterial and reactive arthritis require antibiotics, autoimmune - cytostatics or glucocorticoids, for allergic - glucocorticoids and antihistamines.

The inflammatory fluid is removed with a syringe or special suction during arthroscopy. The joint is immobilized for the entire period of acute inflammation. After the patient is shown therapeutic exercises to restore joint mobility.

Doctor's advice

From personal practice and work experience of colleagues - in inflammation of the joints of any etiology, gelatin compresses show well. They are easy to implement and inexpensive. It is necessary to fold the gauze in several layers, the length and width should be such that there is enough for the inflamed joint. Dip the folded gauze in hot water, squeeze, straighten. Pour a thin layer of gelatin on top, roll it up so that it is inside, like in a bag and does not spill. Place on the joint, wrap with a plastic bag on top, fix with a bandage and / or adhesive tape. You can wear a compress for up to 3 hours, do 2 times a day for 2 weeks. The effect is usually felt on the 4-5th day of use, but therapy should be continued to achieve the desired result, if the course is interrupted, the pain will return.

What is osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (otherwise osteoarthritis) is a degenerative-dystrophic disease. It is based on the deterioration of the nutrition of the articular cartilage, the delay of its recovery and the gradual thinning.

Simply put, the cartilage layer wears out faster than it recovers. The bony joint surfaces are exposed. They are not as smooth as cartilage and rub against each other with effort. The bone plates are partially destroyed, a slight chronic inflammation develops.

As the disease progresses, bone spines grow in the joint - a protective tissue reaction to permanent damage. They prevent the surfaces from sliding relative to each other and the mobility of the joint is impaired.

Osteoarthritis in most people begins to progress after 30-40 years, lasts for years, its symptoms are mild or moderate.

Osteoarthritis of the spine is commonly called osteochondrosis.


There are predisposing factors that cause the development of the pathology at an early age and complicate its course:

  • severe physical activity in athletes;
  • obesity;
  • history of joint injury;
  • vascular disease;
  • sedentary lifestyle;
  • violation of the normal configuration of the joint, for example with flat feet;
  • prolonged exposure to vibration;
  • in women - hormonal imbalance or menopause.
The defeat of the hip joint with osteoarthritis


Large joints on one side are usually affected: knee, thigh, sacrum. The disease begins imperceptibly. Initially, pain is rare and is associated with significant physical exertion.

The unpleasant sensations disappear on the same day or after a few days, if the person is able to rest. As the disease progresses, the intensity of the pain increases, it appears even under normal daily stress.

The mobility of the joint gradually decreases and at the end of the disease it is completely lost. Movements in the affected limb cause severe pain. Osteoarthritis can be aggravated by the type of arthritis - fluid accumulates in the joint cavity, the skin above it becomes red and hot. Once the inflammatory reaction subsides, the course of the disease returns to its previous course.


Osteoarthritis is treated by a traumatologist, orthopedist, sometimes a surgeon. The therapy is aimed at restoring metabolic processes in cartilage, improving joint nutrition and eliminating the inflammatory response. Treatment is lifelong, can be long-term or courses of medication.

In the interim period, chondroprotectors are prescribed in the form of tablets and ointments, therapeutic exercises, massage. In case of exacerbation, chondroprotectors are administered intravenously or intramuscularly together with analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs. A traumatologist can inject protective drugs directly into the joint every few months.

Advanced stages of the disease require surgery, during which the diseased joint is replaced with an artificial one.

Differences between diseases

Function Arthritis Osteoarthritis
Cause of disease Inflammation Cartilage degeneration
Stream Acute, chronic with exacerbations Chronic
Pain Intense from the beginning, more pronounced in the morning At the beginning of the disease weak, gradually increasing. Intensifies in the evening and after exercise
Movements You need to "disperse" - in the morning after sleep the joints are the least mobile Mobility decreases gradually, without morning stiffness
Affected joints Small joints of the arms and legs are symmetrically affected. The big ones suffer from a bacterial infection One or more large joints on different sides of the body
Blood test Severe inflammatory changes in the general blood picture, rheumatoid factor, C-reactive protein, antibodies to pathogens No typical changes
x-rays Gradual changes, osteoporosis - bone loss, bone cysts Gradual changes, deformation of the joint space, the appearance of bone spines and growths.
Basic treatment Anti-inflammatory drugs Chondroprotectors

A similar feature of both diseases is the progressive course with gradual loss of mobility. Autoimmune arthritis often occurs at a young age, when a person is still not serious about their health.

It should be remembered that any joint pain that lasts for a long time occurs under certain conditions - this is a serious reason to visit a doctor. It is important to diagnose the disease in time and start its treatment to slow down the development of the pathological process.