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Osteoarthritis vs Osteoporosis: What's The Difference?

Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis: They sound similar, they both affect your bones, and when you’ve been diagnosed with either, it can be difficult to tell them apart – or understand the relationship between the two. As both conditions impact your ability to stay comfortable, mobile and safe as you age, knowing the key differences between osteoarthritis and osteoporosis can help you make the best choices for your health, having a significant impact on your quality of life.

Here’s a look into what you should know about osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is best known as the wear and tear arthritis that often causes joint pain and mobility problems in older adults from the deterioration of and changes to the joints. It affects the movable joints in the body such as the knee, hip and foot joints because of how much we use them and the force they take on in everyday life. While osteoarthritis is more common in older adults, approximately 2.5% of the total arthritis sufferers (3.6 million Australians) are aged below 45 years.

Signs & Symptoms Of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can cause pain in any joints that are affected, which may start as mild and progress to severe pain as the arthritis worsens. Your joints may creak, swell at times, and change shape or appearance over the years. The stiffness and reduced mobility can negatively affect a person’s productivity and impact their day-to-day quality of life. Many people with osteoarthritis report that factors like colder weather – and even the time of day – can affect the severity of their symptoms.

Causes Of Osteoarthritis

There are some unavoidable causes and risks for developing osteoarthritis like gender (women are more likely to be affected), age and genetics. There are also some avoidable causes like a higher weight, joint injuries, and repetitive activities inherent in certain sports or occupations, like construction work.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

While developing joint pain and stiffness can be the first sign, diagnosing osteoarthritis includes combining your symptoms with medical imaging, most likely an x-ray. Your Allsports physiotherapist can perform a comprehensive diagnosis and refer you for imaging if you think you might be suffering from osteoarthritis.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is the diagnosis you are given when your bone mineral density has decreased significantly, resulting in your bones growing weak, brittle, and making you vulnerable to fractures from even light bumps or trauma. Normally, the rate that old bone is broken down and replaced with new bone is fairly evenly paced. In osteoporosis, the function of our bone-building cells may slow, and we may begin to lose bone at a faster rate than it can be replaced.
One in three women over the age of 50 years and one in five men will experience osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime, which means that their mobility, independence and quality of life may be severely impacted.

Signs & Symptoms Of Osteoporosis

Unfortunately for many, the lack of signs and symptoms until a fracture occurs means that osteoporosis can be left undiagnosed – and unmanaged – for many years. For some, a routine check may reveal that they have osteopenia – a diagnosis indicating that your bone density has decreased, but is not low enough to be classified as ‘osteoporosis’. Getting this diagnosis means that you are on the path to osteoporosis, and should take extra care of your bone health.

Causes Of Osteoporosis

The risks and causes of osteoporosis commonly include deficiencies in calcium or vitamin D intake and inadequate physical activity. This is because healthy bone mass is significantly influenced by both a lack of these specific nutrients and insufficient resistance and stress on the bone that is applied through regular exercise. Other risk factors include: 

  • Age – after the age of 50, our risk of osteoporosis increases significantly
  • Being underweight – having a BMI of 19 or less
  • A history of a previous osteoporotic fracture – research shows that if you’ve broken a bone previously, you’re 2-3 times more likely to break another
  • Female gender – women have a higher risk due to both hormonal changes (particularly estrogen which helps promote strong bones, which is lost during menopause) and the predisposition to have smaller bones
  • Family history – you are more likely to have osteoporosis if your family members did too
  • Smoking – as it slows down the cells that build bone in the body
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (3 or more standard drinks per day) – as it affects the bone-building cells
  • Medical conditions – like arthritis, Crohn’s disease and hyperthyroidism
  • Certain medications – like steroids, anti-epileptic treatments, and some cancer treatments
  • Low physical activity levels – as regular exercise helps promote bone strength

Diagnosing Osteoporosis

While sustaining recurring fractures, or feeling like you’re fracturing ‘easily’ may indicate osteoporosis, the gold standard is a bone density scan (or other medical imaging) to confirm the diagnosis.

Osteoarthritis vs Osteoporosis: How can I tell what I have? 

Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are not mutually exclusive – you can have both at the same time or just one of the two. If you’re unsure whether your joint or bone pain is being caused by osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, it’s important to be formally diagnosed by getting an assessment and imaging. The earlier you know, the earlier you can start managing the conditions to feel your best for the years to come.

Treatment 

Treating osteoporosis and osteoarthritis means not just addressing the problem in the best way for your circumstances, but also working to restore the way you move and optimise your quality of life. This is where our physiotherapists work extensively with patients to help them continue to stay mobile, active, independent and doing the things they love. We also put the right measures in place to help you prevent pain and further injury through the years.

In managing osteoarthritis, your physio will create a tailored management program that is centered around reducing your joint pain, helping you move comfortably, and slowing the progression of your symptoms.

For osteoporosis, your physio can work to help you maintain or improve your bone mass through exercise, and maintain your muscle strength, balance and coordination to help reduce your risk of falls, and hence their painful and limiting consequences.

Get Started With Allsports Physio Today

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, or are worried about your bone or joint health, our team of experienced physiotherapists are here to help. We get to know you, your goals and your preferences to create the best management plan to suit your lifestyle.

Book in with your local Allsports physio team online or call a clinic near you.


References

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1063458415008997

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[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5335887/

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