Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the U.S.—approximately 21 million adults have arthritis or arthritis-attributable activity limitation, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The word arthritis means inflammation, although we use the term more broadly to describe more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that effect joints, tissues around joints, and connective tissue.

The two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. While the two differ in their causes, they are similar in terms of symptoms, risk factors, and some treatments.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is an autoimmune system disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the thin membrane that lines joints (the synovium), causing joint damage, pain, inflammation, and loss of function. This disease can also invade and destroy cartilage and bone in joints, and cause tendons and ligaments to weaken and stretch. People with rheumatoid arthritis may have tender, warm, and swollen joints, morning stiffness, fatigue, fever, and weight loss. They may also have firm bumps of tissue under the skin in the arms (rheumatoid nodules).


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. The cartilage covering the ends of the bones break down, exposing the bones so they rub together causing the joint to stop working smoothly. The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are stiffness—especially in the morning or after resting—pain in the lower back, hips, knees, feet, and sometimes the neck and fingers. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis.

Risk Factors

Age and gender are both risk factors, and women are more likely to develop arthritis. Osteoarthritis mostly affects people over 65, while rheumatoid arthritis tends to strike adults between ages 40 and 60. Bone deformities, joint injuries, obesity, being sedentary, repetitive stress, developmental dysplasia of the hip (a dislocation of the hip joint at birth), and diseases such as diabetes predispose people to osteoarthritis.

Arthritis is not curable; however, medications can help manage pain, inflammation, and other symptoms.

The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research offers the following tips for managing arthritis pain:

  • When sitting, adjust your position frequently
  • Periodically tilt your neck side to side, change the position of your hands, and bend and stretch your legs
  • Pace yourself when exercising, and choose low-impact activities
  • Exercise to improve range of motion, strengthen muscles, and build endurance
  • Avoid smoking




Arthritis Foundation. "What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?" Arthritis Today. Web.

Arthritis Foundation. "What is Osteoarthritis?" Arthritis Today. Web.

Mayo Clinic. "Rheumatoid arthritis." Web. 2 November 2011.

Mayo Clinic. "Osteoarthritis." Web. 13 October 2011.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Arthritis pain: Do's and don'ts." Web. 13 August 2011. "Bones, Muscles, and Joints. Web. August 2009

Medline Plus. "Developmental dysplasia of the hip." Web. 20 February 2011.