Comparing Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

A man with a knee brace sitting on a ledge experiencing knee pain

There are over 100 types of arthritis. The two main types are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis. You might think that all types of arthritis are quite similar, but actually, RA and osteoarthritis have different causes, symptoms, and arthritis treatments. If you have any type of arthritis, you can benefit from speaking to a specialist in pain management. 


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues throughout the body. Specifically, RA attacks the synovium, which is the membrane surrounding the joints. Unlike many types of arthritis, however, RA attacks structures beyond the joints, including the: 

  • Skin
  • Eyes
  • Nerves
  • Bone marrow 
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Kidneys 

Osteoarthritis is different. It isn’t an autoimmune disease. Instead, it’s a condition caused by excessive wear and tear. It affects the cartilage that cushions and protects the joints. With excessive wear and tear, the cartilage develops a roughened surface. Over time, it degrades and can even wear away completely. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but most often affects weight-bearing joints, such as the: 

  • Knees
  • Hips
  • Spine


The joint-specific symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include tenderness, warmth, and swelling of the joints. Joint stiffness is common, and this is usually worse after periods of inactivity, particularly in the mornings. Patients can also experience fatigue, fever, and weight loss. If complications develop, patients may experience: 

  • Rheumatoid nodules
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Heart problems
  • Lung disease
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Patients with osteoarthritis only experience symptoms in the affected joints, rather than symptoms throughout the body. These symptoms tend to grow progressively worse over time, and can include: 

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • A grating sensation
  • Loss of flexibility 
  • Bone spurs


An older woman practicing yoga to help manage pain

There is no cure for either form of arthritis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be helpful for both types. Patients with RA may be prescribed steroids, biologic agents, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Physical therapy and occupational therapy are often recommended for patients with either RA or osteoarthritis. 

The Houston Spine & Rehabilitation Centers is a leading provider of specialized arthritis treatment in The Woodlands. Our specialists provide a full spectrum of care—from medications and injections to chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy. New and current patients can call 281-362-0006 to request an appointment. 

Dr. Mark Yezak
Mark Yezak, BS, DC, is the founder, chiropractic director, and chief of staff at Houston Spine & Rehabilitation Centers. Offering 25 years of experience. Dr. Yezak is a published author of research papers, books, and journal entries. He is undoubtedly a leader in his field.
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