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Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, while distinct, are often confused due to their similar names. Both primarily affect adults over 50 and develop gradually. Understanding their symptoms is crucial for assessing individual risk. Below, we’ll explore the key similarities and differences between these conditions.

An Overview: Osteoarthritis vs. Osteoporosis

Osteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis. This degenerative disease causes the cartilage that lines your joints to wear down over time, which can lead to bone damage and cause pain. 

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that entails a progressive weakening of the bone mass and bone mineral density that makes the bones more susceptible to a fracture or break. You may be at a higher risk of osteoporosis if you have a family history of it. Women are at a higher risk than men of developing osteoporosis due to hormonal changes that occur during menopause affecting calcium levels and bone density. 

There are several similarities between osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. These include:  

  • Both conditions can cause pain, although pain is more common and typically more severe in osteoarthritis.
  • Both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis develop slowly over time and are more common in older adults.
  • Although osteoarthritis is not a disease of the bones, it can cause the bones to wear down where they rub together. For this reason, both conditions do have some effect on bone health. 
  • Some experts believe these two conditions go hand in hand, meaning that having one could make you more likely to have the other. However, more research is needed to confirm these claims. 

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis, a joint disease. Your joints exist as connections to bones, where you bend your fingers, arms, knees and more. Typically, the ends of the bones have a layer of cartilage that acts as a lubricant and shock absorber. This helps the joints move seamlessly, without pain. 

In osteoarthritis, this cartilage layer wears down over time. Once it is worn down enough, it causes the bones to rub up against each other when you move certain joints. This can cause a lot of pain when moving and doing physical activity.

The exact impact of osteoarthritis will vary depending on the specific joints affected. For example, if you have osteoarthritis in your knees, the pain will likely affect you when walking, running, sitting down and standing up from a chair and any other activities that require you to bend at the knees. 

If you have osteoarthritis in your finger joints, the pain will likely flare up when you do fine motor activities with your hands, such as picking up a small item or opening a food wrapper. The joints that are most commonly affected by osteoarthritis include:

  • Knees
  • Hips
  • Neck
  • Lower back
  • Hands

It isn’t entirely clear what causes osteoarthritis but it usually develops slowly as you age. Over time, the ongoing use of your joints can cause a natural wearing down of the cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis. An injury that directly damages the joints can also cause osteoarthritis, such as a car accident, fall or sports injury. 

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis happens as your bone mass and bone density are weakened over time. If you have osteoporosis, you are more likely to have a risk of fracture from a fall due to the bones being weak and fragile. 

It’s commonly referred to as the “silent disease” as many people only find out they have osteoporosis after getting a broken bone from a minor injury. Osteoporosis can also cause compression fractures of the spine and lead to a loss of height. Bones most commonly affected by osteoporosis include the hips, wrists and spine. 

Evaluating Risk Factors

Old age doesn’t automatically entail the development of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Some people may develop osteoporosis and never even know it, given that it doesn’t cause many symptoms. These conditions can also develop in varying severities as well, meaning some people will be more affected by the condition than others.

Certain risk factors make people more likely to develop osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. It is important to be aware of what kind of risk factors exist for you and if any of those are within your control. 

Risk factors for osteoarthritis

The cause of osteoarthritis isn’t entirely known and it can happen to anyone. However, it is more common in adults who are over 50 and in women who are postmenopausal. Some other risk factors that can make osteoarthritis more likely include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having diabetes
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Having an autoimmune disease that affects the joints 

Risk factors of osteoporosis

Osteoporosis often develops over time. Certain risk factors might make you more likely to develop it, including:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Being female
  • Being naturally thin 
  • Being a smoker 
  • Having a family history of osteoporosis

Identifying Symptoms: Osteoarthritis vs. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis do have some similar symptoms but overall the two conditions vary quite a bit. It is possible to have both medical conditions simultaneously which can make diagnosing more difficult. Work closely with a skilled healthcare professional to identify the cause of any symptoms you are facing. 

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Osteoarthritis commonly presents with various symptoms. These include:

  • Joint pain that worsens with movement
  • Stiffness in the joints
  • Limited range of motion
  • Swelling near or around a joint
  • Difficulty moving certain joints
  • Joint deformity or an obvious physical difference 

Osteoporosis Symptoms

Osteoporosis doesn’t always have clear and obvious symptoms which can make it more difficult to diagnose. The most common indicator of this disease is an accidental bone break after a minor injury. Other warning signs that may help indicate osteoporosis include:

  • Noticeably shrinking in height (an inch or more)
  • Changes to your natural posture
  • Shortness of breath (this can happen with compression fractures of the spine since it can reduce your lung capacity)
  • Lower back pain

Osteoporosis can be diagnosed using a bone mineral density test. If you think you may have weakened bone strength, visit your provider to find out if you are a good candidate for a bone mineral density test. 

Comparing Different Treatment Methods

Both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are chronic diseases that may not be entirely curable. There are certain treatment approaches that can be used to help with managing symptoms. 

Osteoarthritis Treatments

Numerous treatment plans can be used to address osteoarthritis. These include:

  • Medication. Common medications used for osteoarthritis include over-the-counter pain relievers to help reduce pain and inflammation. Some find relief using topical pain reliever creams. 
  • Exercise. Regular movement can help relieve joint stiffness and strengthen muscles to help keep symptoms reduced. If the osteoarthritis has gotten in the way of physical activities, you may benefit from physical therapy.
  • Supportive devices. Certain supportive devices like special shoes or braces can help to support and stabilize joints. 
  • Hot and cold therapy. Alternating between heat and cold can help to relieve joint pain and stiffness. 
  • Surgery. In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery as a treatment for osteoarthritis. This is not common and usually only happens when you are experiencing severe symptoms and other treatment methods do not work. Surgery for osteoarthritis would involve a joint replacement like a hip or knee replacement. 

Osteoporosis Treatments

There are also several treatment options for the bone loss caused by osteoporosis. These include:

  • Exercise. Strength training exercise programs like weight lifting help to strengthen your bones and muscles. Lower-impact workouts like yoga, walking and pilates are also beneficial since they don’t put too much stress on the bones and still provide benefits of strength and balance. 
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements. Osteoporosis is commonly associated with low levels of vitamin D and calcium. Supplementing vitamin D and calcium may help in preventing and treating the bone loss caused by osteoporosis. You’ll still want to work with your doctor to determine the best dosing of these vitamins and supplements.
  • Medications. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medications to help with treating osteoporosis. Medications for osteoporosis will vary depending on your unique needs. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help replace certain hormones that you are in need of such as estrogen or testosterone.

Lifestyle Changes for Managing Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis

Supporting your overall health will help you manage chronic diseases like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis and feel your best overall. See below some healthy lifestyle tips to help manage these diseases and maintain overall health. 

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight will help keep you healthy and feeling your best. Take steps to eat a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet and exercise regularly to stay at a healthier weight. Being at a healthy weight will make it easier to stay active which helps manage symptoms of both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. 
  • Quit smoking. Smoking and using tobacco products has several negative health impacts so it is important to quit smoking if you have chronic diseases like osteoporosis or osteoarthritis. If you are having a hard time giving up smoking or vaping, talk with your doctor about what resources they may have to help you. 
  • Moderate alcohol use. It is important to moderate alcohol use or quit alcohol altogether if you have osteoporosis or osteoarthritis. Drinking alcohol causes your body to be dehydrated, which can worsen joint pain and make joint lubrication even worse. It also can lower your energy levels, making it harder to maintain a healthy lifestyle overall. 
  • See your doctor for regular checkups to monitor your health. Keeping up with regular doctor checkups can help you closely monitor your health and intervene if needed. 

When to Seek Professional Help: UCF Health Rheumatology

If you think you may have early signs of osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, it may be time to see your provider for a check-up. Signs of osteoarthritis like painful joints or protrusions from your joints indicate it is time to seek professional help. If you recently had a fracture from a mild injury, it may be time to talk with your doctor about getting a bone density scan to screen for osteoporosis. UCF Health Rheumatology services can help patients manage chronic conditions like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, helping to promote overall bone and joint health. 


Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are both degenerative diseases with similar names but they vary quite a bit as well. If you think you may have one of these conditions, it is important to be aware of what the differences are. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is always important in managing chronic conditions like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Talk with your doctor about these conditions and any screening tests you may need if you think you have early signs.