Comparing Rheumatoid Arthritis & Osteoarthritis

4 Mar, 2019

Know the difference between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis 

According to the survey by Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1 in 6 Australians have arthritis. There are several different types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are two of the most common forms. Although the symptoms of these two types of arthritis can be similar, it’s very important to distinguish between them in order to determine the proper treatment.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. The normal role of your body’s immune system is to fight off infections to keep you healthy. In an autoimmune disease, your immune system starts attacking your own healthy tissues. In RA, the immune system targets the lining of the joints, causing inflammation and joint damage.


Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the smooth cartilage joint surface wears out. And as the joint works extra hard to repair itself, that can cause inflammation and pain which affects the whole joint including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles.

The table below summarise the differences between RA and OA:

Rheumatoid Arthritis Osteoarthritis
Nature of the disease Autoimmune disease Degenerative disease
Prevalence in Australia 2% of the population 9% of the population
Risk factors

Family history of RA

Smoking History

Women > Men


Previous injury to the joint

Overuse a particular joint

Women > Men

Age of onset Most commonly 35-64 Usually begins later in life
Joint-related symptoms

Symmetrical presentation

Affect smaller joints (fingers, elbow, foot)

Joint pain, swelling, and tenderness to touch

Symptoms often begin on one side of the body

Affect large weight-bearing joints (hips, knees), or the spine

Joint pain, swelling, and tenderness to touch

Other symptoms Frequent fatigue and a general feeling of being ill Whole-body symptoms are not present

Blood test for inflammation and antibodies

X-ray at later stage


How can we help? 

Although there are many differences in RA and OA, when it comes non-drug treatment, the primary goals are the same – to reduce joint-related symptoms and to able to perform daily task easily. At Generation Physio & Allied Health, there are several disciplines that can assist in reaching these goals:

  • Work alongside with Exercise Physiologist, prescribed a land-based/ water-based exercise to increase strength, reduce pain and improve range of motion
  • Physical agent modalities, manual therapy techniques and remedial massage to assist with pain management
Exercise Physiology
  • Work alongside with physiotherapist, prescribed a land-based/ water-based exercise to increase strength, reduce pain and improve range of motion
  • Assist with weight loss and improve physical fitness
Occupational Therapy
  • Prescribes suitable equipment to assist with performing daily living tasks
  • Therapeutic activities to promote hand movements, which can improve functional abilities with daily tasks such as self-care, home management, and work and leisure activities
  • Prescribes compression garment or splinting to control swelling
  • Specialist in treating arthritis in feet
  • Provide recommendations on footwear/ insoles to reduce pain experience in walking
  • Nail care for the people who is unable to reach down to their feet due to arthritis

Written by our Brisbane based Physiotherapist Joey Choi. Joey graduated locally from the University of Queensland and is bilingual. She can English as well as Cantonese and Mandarin.

For more information please contact us.

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