The Difference Between Arthritis and Osteoporosis

Both arthritis and osteoporosis can affect seniors, but many do not understand the difference between the two.  To put it simply, osteoporosis affects the bones, while arthritis affects the joints and surrounding tissue.  However, that is an oversimplification and there are many other characteristics to the diseases that are similar as well as different.


Arthritis affects the joints, which are the areas where two bones join.  This includes knees, hips, toes, fingers, and wrists.  There are two main kinds of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  Here is a look at each one:


This is the most common form of arthritis and results from overuse, which causes injury to the joint.  It is most seen in the hands, hips, knees, lower back, and neck and can be caused by performing repetitive tasks or being overweight.  The cartilage becomes thin at the end of the bones in the joint, which causes it to become painful.  Treatment can range from topical medicine or oral medication to surgery for joint replacement.  Surgery usually occurs with large joints such as a hip or knee.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This disease is an autoimmune inflammatory disease where the body attacks its own healthy tissue.  This type of arthritis usually affects the hands, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, and feet.  It causes inflammation, swelling, and restricted movement, along with other symptoms not normally associated with arthritis.  This can include fever, weight loss, and anemia, among other symptoms.


With osteoporosis, bones lose their density and become more brittle.  A senior with osteoporosis has bones that are more likely to break as a result of everyday activities than for seniors that do not have the disease.  It results in a loss of height and back pain and can even make it difficult or impossible for the person to walk.

Osteoporosis can progress undetected for many years and is usually only discovered after a fracture.  A bone density test can be done to determine if the person has osteoporosis.  It cannot be cured, but treatment can slow the progression of the disease.

A healthy diet with calcium and Vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis, along with lowering any controllable risk factors.  Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:

  • Family history
  • Small or thin frame
  • Had early menopause
  • Low calcium consumption
  • Being inactive
  • Smoking
  • High alcohol consumption

While some of these risk factors cannot be controlled, some are within the person’s management.  They can make a lifestyle change and eat a healthier diet with weightbearing exercise to prevent or slow the progression of the disease.

While the terms osteoarthritis and osteoporosis may sound similar, they are very different diseases.  They are diagnosed and treated differently.  People with osteoarthritis may require pain management to cope with their disease, while often people with osteoporosis may not have pain unless they have had a fracture.

It is recommended for both groups to get exercise, especially stretching, strengthening, and range of motion exercises.  People with osteoporosis should avoid activities that require bending forward or twisting, and they should not lift heavy weights.  Low impact aerobics, swimming, and yoga are good choices for exercise for both groups.

Homecare services can assist people who have been diagnosed with either disease by encouraging them to do more exercise.  They can suggest going for a walk and accompany the person to prevent falling.  For seniors with osteoporosis, caregivers can cook healthy meals that have the recommended amount of calcium and Vitamin D.

Many tasks can become more difficult for the person who has osteoarthritis.  They may not be able to climb stairs or get into a tub without help.  Changes may need to be made in their home to make it safer, such as removing throw rugs and providing sturdy objects for them to hold on to along their walkway.

Osteoporosis can require a change in habits, too.  Any items that pose a threat for falling need to be removed.  Adequate lighting can help the person see where they are going, and they may need an overnight light if they get up during the night.

Carefect Homecare Services can help you find and remove any obstacles in the home of your loved one.  Our staff can alert you to any unsafe areas you might not be aware of.  The caregivers at Carefect Homecare Services can also help your senior family member with tasks that have become difficult due to one of these diseases.  They can encourage mobility and exercise to help manage the diseases.  Our staff at Carefect Homecare Services will provide loving care for your senior family members when you can’t be there with them.