How Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis Are Different

Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis (OA) are different conditions with similar-sounding names. While they share some features, they have more differences than similarities.

Their similar names can be confusing. Both words start with osteo, the medical prefix for “bone.” The word porosis means “porous,” and arthritis means “joint inflammation.”

This article covers the basics of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, how they’re different, and what they have in common.

Woman talking to doctor in his office
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Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis makes you lose bone tissue, which leaves your bones weaker and prone to breaking. An estimated 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and more than 40 million are at risk due to low bone mass.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease. It can progress for many years without symptoms and often isn’t discovered until you break a bone.

Symptoms

If it’s not treated, this condition can lead to fractures, even from what seems like a small bump.

Fractures may:

  • Cause pain
  • Impair your ability to walk
  • Change your posture
  • Make you shorter

Diagnosis and treatment can help you avoid these symptoms.

Diagnosis

Screening for osteoporosis is recommended for women 65 years and older, and for men or for younger women at increased risk.

If your healthcare provider suspects osteoporosis because of a fracture, they may order a bone mineral density (BMD) test to diagnose it.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:

  • Being thin or small-framed
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Early menopause or being postmenopausal
  • Lack of regular menstrual periods
  • Prolonged use of certain drugs, such as prednisone
  • Inadequate calcium in your diet
  • Being physically inactive
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use

Because you can’t control many of these, focus on the risk factors you can control, such as getting enough calcium and exercise.

Treatment and Prevention

Osteoporosis can’t be cured, but several drugs can prevent and treat it.

You can lower your risk and manage symptoms with:

  • A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
  • Regular weight-bearing exercise
  • A healthy lifestyle

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease.

It often affects:

  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Neck
  • Lower back
  • Small joints of the hands

OA generally develops in joints due to heavy use and/or injuries, often from sports or physically intensive jobs. Carrying excess body weight can also contribute to its development.

Symptoms

When the cartilage that provides cushioning for the bones inside your joints wears away, OA can develop. With the cushion gone, your bones grind against each other when you move.

Symptoms include:

  • Less joint flexibility
  • Bone spurs
  • Joint inflammation

The first OA symptom you may notice is pain that gets worse after exercise or first thing in the morning.

Diagnosis

OA is often diagnosed after you go to a healthcare provider for pain in one or more joints.

Diagnostic steps include:

  • A physical exam
  • X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

You might also need tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. These may include blood tests and possibly joint aspiration (removing and testing joint fluid).

Risk Factors

Factors that make you more likely to develop OA include:

  • Getting older, especially once you’re over 50
  • Injuring or overusing joints
  • Obesity
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Weak muscles
  • A family history of OA
  • Being female

Getting treatment for injuries, protecting your joints during work and sports, and leading a generally healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk.

Treatment and Prevention

Several medications are available for treating pain from OA, including:

Topical pain relievers (applied to the skin) are sometimes used.

Exercise, weight loss, stress management, and a healthy diet are considered treatments and prevention methods for OA.

Most Common Joint Disorder

OA is extremely common in the U.S. Knee OA alone affects more than 32 million Americans.

Comparisons

Despite their many differences, it is possible to have both of these conditions. However, that doesn’t happen very often.

Osteoporosis and OA do have a few things in common. That includes pain (when osteoporosis is advanced), the need for pain management, and the benefits of exercise.

Pain and Pain Relief

Both osteoporosis and OA can cause pain. People with either disease may need to use pain relief strategies and pain medicines.

  • Pain is a primary symptom of osteoarthritis, and it affects the specific joints.
  • Early on, osteoporosis isn’t painful. But broken bones cause a lot of pain, which can be temporary or chronic. Multiple or frequent spinal fractures can lead to severe, persistent pain.

Exercise

People with either condition may people benefit from arthritis-friendly exercise programs. These often include physical therapy.

In general, you should focus on stretching, strengthening, posture, and range of motion exercises.

Examples are:

  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Walking
  • Swimming and water exercise
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga

With either condition, check with your healthcare provider about what types of exercise are safe for you.

Using Caution With Movements

Both conditions may mean that you have some limitations in what you can safely do.

If you have osteoporosis, you shouldn’t:

  • Bend forward from the waist
  • Twist your spine
  • Lift heavy objects

If you have OA, you may need to compensate for limited movement in some joints.

Osteoporosis is about four times more common in women than men. OA is also more common in women, especially after age 50.

Summary

Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis sound similar but are quite different. Osteoporosis involves bone loss that can lead to fractures while OA causes joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness.

These conditions are different in the way they develop, their symptoms, and how they’re diagnosed and treated.

Low-impact exercise can help with both conditions, but it must be the right type of exercise for your specific needs. Make sure you get guidance from a therapist before you embark on an exercise program.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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