Despite the fact that osteoporosis, arthritis and osteoarthritis (a form of arthritis) are completely different conditions, they are frequently confused, in particular osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, because both names start with “osteo.”
Osteoporosis is a bone disease. The word “osteoporosis” literally means porous bones. It is a bone disorder characterized by decreased bone strength as a result of reduced bone quantity and quality. A person with osteoporosis has an increased risk of breaking a bone (fracturing) easily.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is a degenerative joint disease that involves thinning or destruction of the smooth cartilage that covers the ends of bones, as well as changes to the bone underlying the joint cartilage. Osteoarthritis produces pain, stiffness and reduced movement of the affected joint, which ultimately affects ones ability to do physical activities, reducing quality of life.
Osteoporosis is called “the silent thief” because it can progress without symptoms until a broken bone occurs. When bones become severely weakened by osteoporosis, simple movements – such as bending over to pick up a heavy bag of groceries or sneezing forcefully – can lead to broken bones. Hip, spine and wrist fractures are the most common fractures associated with osteoporosis.
Osteoarthritis most often affects the hips, knees, fingers (i.e., base of the thumb, tips and middle joints of the fingers), feet or spine. It affects each joint differently, and symptoms are easy to overlook. It can be painful – the pain may result from overuse of a joint, prolonged immobility or painful bony growth in finger joints.
Osteoporosis is diagnosed through a bone mineral density test, a simple, painless test that measures the amount of bone in the spine and hip.
Osteoarthritis is diagnosed based on medical history, physical examination and x-rays of the affected joints. activities, reducing quality of life.
The risk of osteoporosis may be reduced by becoming aware of these risk factors and taking action to slow down bone loss. Low bone mineral density is a major risk factor for fracture, the main consequence of osteoporosis. Other key risk factors include older age, prior low-trauma fracture, a history of falls and use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids (for example, prednisone). Family history of a fragility fracture is often a contributing factor.
Some factors that can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis include family history, physical inactivity, excess weight and overuse or injury of joints.
Osteoporosis can be treated with lifestyle changes and, often, the use of prescription medication. Paying attention to diet (adequate calcium and vitamin D intake) and getting regular physical activity are important lifestyle changes. Weight-bearing and strength training exercises can help to manage pain and improve the strength of bones and muscles, which helps to prevent falls. Broken hips caused by osteoporosis usually need to be repaired surgically. This can include the use of specialized “pins and plates,” but can also involve hip replacement surgery. This is determined by the surgeon based on the exact type of hip fracture that has occurred. If you have osteoporosis, there are effective medications that can reduce your risk of fracture.
Osteoarthritis can be managed with the use of joint protection (decreasing the amount of work the joint has to do), exercise, pain relief medication, heat and cold treatments, and weight control. Severe arthritis may be treated with an operation, where damaged joints are replaced with an artificial implant. Knee and hip joint replacements are commonly performed.
Individuals who suffer from osteoarthritis and osteoporosis should seek help planning a program to manage both conditions and pay special attention to advice about exercise.
Regular weight-bearing exercise is usually recommended for individuals with osteoporosis, but may be difficult to follow in the presence of significant hip or knee arthritis. Keeping joints mobile requires a special approach to exercise and movement. A specially trained physiotherapist can help ensure exercises are safe and beneficial for both conditions.
The Arthritis Society (TAS) is the leading source of information on arthritis, including osteoarthritis. For more information about arthritis, contact:
The Arthritis Society
Osteoporosis Canada (OC) is the leading source of information on osteoporosis in Canada. OC provides individuals concerned about their risk of developing this disease and those who have been diagnosed with up-to-date information on all aspects of bone health. Our information counsellors on our toll-free line (1-800-463-6842).