Arthritis is a term that encompasses a range of joint disorders, each with its distinct characteristics and causes. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two common forms of arthritis that, despite sharing the term, have striking differences in their origins, symptoms, and management. At North 49, we often encounter patients who confuse these two conditions, prompting us to shed light on the differences between them.

Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Unraveling the Differences

  1. Underlying Causes:
    • Osteoarthritis: This condition is primarily a result of wear and tear on the joints. It can be triggered by joint injuries, repetitive activities, and increased body weight, all contributing to the breakdown of cartilage.
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. The immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, the lining of the membranes that surround the joints, leading to inflammation and joint damage.
  2. Joint Involvement:
    • Osteoarthritis: Typically affects a specific joint or joints that have experienced excessive stress or injury. Commonly observed in weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips.
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Can involve multiple joints simultaneously, often in a symmetrical pattern. It commonly affects joints like those in the hands, elbows, shoulders, feet, and knees.
  3. Pain Characteristics:
    • Osteoarthritis: Pain is usually localized to the affected joint and tends to worsen with activity. Stiffness and discomfort are commonly experienced after periods of inactivity.
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Pain is often more severe, with joints being extremely tender, warm, and swollen. Morning stiffness lasting for more than an hour is a hallmark symptom.
  4. Relief through Medication:
    • Osteoarthritis: Medications may provide symptomatic relief, but they focus on managing pain rather than addressing the underlying cause.
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Medications, including disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate, along with biologics, aim to slow down the progression of the disease and alleviate symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for better outcomes.

Impact on Quality of Life and Management Strategies

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can significantly impact one’s quality of life, leading to inactivity, stiffness, and weakened supporting muscles. To minimize these effects, consider the following strategies:

  1. Maintain an Active Lifestyle: Regular exercise, tailored to individual abilities, helps improve joint flexibility, muscle strength, and overall well-being. Low-impact activities such as swimming, walking, or cycling can be beneficial.
  2. Monitor for Increased Symptoms: Regularly assess for signs of increased swelling, temperature, and redness around joints. Early detection of worsening symptoms allows for prompt intervention.
  3. Team up with a Physiotherapist: Collaborating with a local physiotherapist is essential for developing a personalized plan to manage arthritis. Physiotherapy can include exercises to improve joint function, strength training, and strategies to cope with pain.


Distinguishing between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective management. At North 49, we encourage individuals in Saskatoon and surrounding areas to seek guidance from one of our team of physiotherapists to create a personalized plan for minimizing the impact of arthritis on daily life. If you’re outside the Saskatoon area, but still in Saskatchewan our online therapy services provide accessible support for those across Saskatchewan. Either way you can book an Initial Assessment on our website.

Don’t let arthritis hinder your ability to enjoy work, leisure, and family time—take proactive steps to manage and alleviate its effects.