“I’m not as young as I used to be!”
It’s a familiar refrain, often declared when someone is asked to perform a physical task or activity that they feel is now beyond their capacity.
It’s a comedic phrase because of its redundancy. Of course you’re not as young as you used to be. No one is! Just the same, we’ll never be as old as we’re going to be.
Still, the phrase resonates with us because we understand that with the natural aging process come various aches and pains that will inhibit and change our lifestyle.
But, be careful.
While mild joint pain can be a symptom of aging, it can also be a symptom of a far bigger problem. Arthritis.
There are over 100 different types of arthritis, but this article is going to help you discern between two of the most common forms: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Could it happen to me?
Yes, it could.
Arthritis is not a particularly selective antagonist, and affects many people all over the world. The figures are staggering.
Osteoarthritis is the world’s number one cause of joint pain. 1 in 2 adults will develop symptoms of knee osteoarthritis in their lifetime. 1 in 4 will develop symptoms of hip osteoarthritis by the age of 85, and 1 in 12 adults will have osteoarthritis in the hand once they reach 60.
Rheumatoid arthritis, determined not to be outdone by osteoarthritis, has also been putting up some incredible numbers.
It is experienced by approximately 1.5 million Americans, and is about 3 times more prominent in women than men. It has carved out it’s own demographic, and is felt at a much younger age than osteoarthritis, often first experienced between the ages of 30 and 60.
While both are forms of arthritis, they are totally different disorders.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder.
So, what’s the difference?
A degenerative disorder is often experienced after prolonged wear and tear. This could be a reason osteoarthritis is more commonly experienced at an older age than rheumatoid arthritis.
An autoimmune disorder is experienced when the immune system mistakes part of its own body as a threat, and attacks it.
These disorders determine what parts of the joints are adversely affected.
In a case of osteoarthritis, the degenerative disorder, the problem lies with the cartilage. Over time, the cartilage that cushions your joint breaks down, ultimately leaving bone on bone contact. This exposes nerve endings and causes pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis, the autoimmune disorder, targets the tissue inside our joints known as the synovium. By causing inflammation, the synovium thickens, which causes painful swelling around our joints.
The synovium also creates synovial fluid, which is the fluid that lubricates joints. Without that lubrication, our joints start to feel stiff.
After time, rheumatoid arthritis can eventually lead to symptoms of osteoarthritis. As the inflammation experienced by the synovium spreads, our joint cartilage becomes another casualty. Eventually, when enough vital cartilage has been claimed, the joint spacing between bones can narrow, which leads to that painful bone on bone contact.
These two forms of arthritis are also caused in very different ways.
In the introduction we mentioned “getting older” as a cause of joint pain. While osteoarthritis can just be a part of the natural aging process, there are several other conditions that can leave you at risk. They include obesity, previous joint injury, overuse of a joint, weak muscles, and family history.
Rheumatoid arthritis is quite different. In fact, it is not yet fully understood what causes rheumatoid arthritis.
Many factors are thought to play a role, including bacteria or viruses, obesity, stress, exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution and industrial chemicals.
Research has also shown that people with the genetic marker known as the HLA shared epitope are five times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those without the marker.
What’s the prognosis?
Radiologist and young man discussing x-ray images of joints
While there is not yet a “cure” for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, it is such a common ailment that treatments for managing the pain are readily available.
If you think you may be suffering from a form of arthritis, schedule an appointment with your physician so they can help you determine your best course of treatment.