Osteoarthritis vs. Osteoporosis Differences and Similarities

Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2022

What is osteoarthritis? What is osteoporosis?

Decreased bone density characterizes osteopenia.
A doctor shows an X-ray to a woman.
  • The definition of osteoarthritis is the degeneration of joint cartilage tissue and the underlying bone.
  • The definition of osteoporosis is a medical condition that results in bones becoming brittle and/or fragile.

Are osteoarthritis and osteoporosis forms of arthritis?

Arthritis is defined as painful inflammation and joint stiffness.

  • Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that involves both the underlying tissue and the underlying bone of a joint. 
  • Osteoporosis is mainly a loss of bone tissue that is not limited to the joint areas.

The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is possible for one person to have both conditions.

Which one is more painful and worse, osteoarthritis or osteoporosis?

Both conditions may be mild, moderate, or severe, but because of the high risk of bone fractures with osteoporosis, some doctors may consider osteoporosis, especially if it is severe, to be the "worse" disease because of a high risk for other fractures. However, "worse" may be seen differently by others, because osteoarthritis pain with joint destruction may be "worse" and more painful for a person over time. 

What are the differences in the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis vs. osteoporosis?

The signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include the following:

  1. Pain in the joints like the hands, knee, hips, spine, and/or neck
  2. Stiffness in joints
  3. Joint swelling, tenderness, bumps (bone spurs)
  4. Joint deformity
  5. Limping when walking
  6. Crackle sounds when the joint is moved

Osteoporosis is termed the "silent disease" because it can progress for years before it is diagnosed. After osteoporosis progresses, compression fractures and other fractures can lead to symptoms. Often a person with osteoporosis does not have symptoms until...

  1. A bone fracture occurs 
  2. Porous bones are detected by bone density tests or seen incidentally in imaging tests like X-rays or CT.
  3. Height loss due to spinal bone compression fractures
  4. Severe back pain
  5. Change in posture
  6. Difficulty and/or the inability to walk

What are the differences in the causes of osteoarthritis vs. osteoporosis?

The following are the main differences in the causes of these diseases:

  1. Osteoarthritis is mainly caused by overuse or "wear and tear" on the joints.
  2. Osteoarthritis may be categorized by stages 0-4, with 0 representing a normal joint and 4 representing severe disease.
  3. Osteoporosis is mainly caused by one or more underlying problems like calcium deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, or hormonal changes.
  4. Osteoporosis typically has T - scores between -1.0 or above (normal) to -2.5 or below (diagnostic of osteoporosis) in a diagnostic bone density test.

QUESTION

What is another medical term for osteoporosis? See Answer

What are the risk factors for osteoarthritis vs. osteoporosis? Are they inherited?

Osteoarthritis risk factors

Osteoarthritis risk factors include the following:

  1. Older age
  2. Joint injuries
  3. Repeated stresses to joints 
  4. Obesity
  5. Bone deformities
  6. Genetics (family history)
  7. Being female
  8. Certain disease(s) like rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus

Osteoporosis risk factors

Most of the risk factors for osteoporosis are the same as for osteoarthritis like older age, being female, and genetics (family history), but others include the following: 

  1. Smoking
  2. Alcohol use
  3. Bone fracture after age 40
  4. Lack of exercise
  5. Small and/or thin body
  6. Post menopause
  7. Low calcium and/or low vitamin D intake
  8. Other medical conditions like hyperthyroidism

What procedures and tests diagnose osteoarthritis vs. osteoporosis?

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis includes the following:

  • History
  • Physical exam
  • Imaging tests 

There are no blood tests used to diagnose osteoarthritis.

Diagnosis of osteoporosis

Diagnosis of osteoporosis includes the following: 

  • History
  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests 
  • Bone mineral density (BMD) test
  • Possibly, bone biopsy 
  • Conventional X-ray

What natural home remedies relieve pain from osteoarthritis and osteoporosis?

Home remedies may help with symptom relief in either condition, but they are not effective at treating the underlying cause. 

Natural home remedies for osteoarthritis

Natural home remedies that have been proposed or reported as having some benefit for pain relief of osteoarthritis include the following:

Natural home remedies for osteoporosis

The following are home remedies for osteoporosis pain:

Always check with your doctor before using home remedies. Scientific evidence for the use of specific supplements or herbal remedies may be minimal.
 

What is the medical and surgical treatment for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis?

Basic osteoarthritis treatment and surgery

Basic treatments for osteoarthritis include NSAIDs nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, for example, ibuprofen (Motrin and other brands). 
Some people with osteoarthritis may need narcotic treatment to relieve pain. Other people with osteoarthritis may need injections, for example; 

Osteoporosis treatment and surgery

Bisphosphonates are medications that treat osteoporosis. The following drugs belong to this drug class:

Osteoporosis also may be surgically treated with joint replacement surgery.

What is the prognosis for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis? Can they be cured?

  • There is no cure for osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. 
  • The prognosis for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis is usually good to fair, but can range from good to poor, depending on the person's response to treatments and the severity of the disease.
  • Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that can be slowed, but in some patients with osteoporosis, the disease can be stopped with treatments.
     

Can you prevent osteoarthritis or osteoporosis?

  • Osteoporosis may be slowed and/or prevented if diagnosed and treated with medicine (bisphosphonates) early in the disease.
  • Osteoarthritis, although a degenerative disease, may be prevented in some people by not stressing their joints and exercising appropriately.
     
Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2022
References
United States. CDC. "Arthritis: Risk Factors." Apr. 16, 2021. <https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/risk-factors.htm>.

Whitaker Elam, Rachel Elizabeth, et al. "Osteoporosis Workup." Medscape. Dec. 21, 2022. <https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/330598-workup>.