Osteoporosis vs Osteoarthritis Differences in Bone Diseases
March 30, 2012 Health

Osteoporosis vs Osteoarthritis Differences in Bone DiseasesOsteoporosis and osteoarthritis are two common bone conditions in the elderly. These conditions are sometimes confused with each other mainly because of the prefix ‘osteo-‘ that means bone. While there may be some common features, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are two different conditions. Both can be debilitating and severely impair mobility in seniors. However, osteoporosis can be treated in many instances and even reversed whereas the changes in osteoarthritis are largely irreversible.

Differences in Disease Processes

Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bone due to reduced bone mass density. Osteoarthritis is degeneration of the cartilage that caps the ends of bones involved in a joint. Eventually the ends of the bones are worn out as well in osteoarthritis.


Bone is constantly undergoing remodeling. A type of bone cell known as osteoblasts lays down new bone matrix while other cells, osteoclasts, take up old bone. This deposition and resorption is in balance so that there is the take up of old bone does not exceed the laying down of new bone. In osteoporosis, this balance is disrupted and more bone is resorbed than deposited.


The joints have various mechanisms to ensure flexibility but prevent wear and tear to the parts of the body that form the joint. The ends of the bone that are involved in the joint are smooth. It is covered by articular cartilage which acts as a shock absorber and protects the bone. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage is not replenished quickly enough thereby degenerating and eventually exposing the underlying bone. It is not an inflammation of the joint as the word ‘-arthritis’ suggests but rather the break down of cartilage and bones of the joint.

Causes of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis

The change in bone remodeling seen with osteoporosis may be linked to underlying diseases, physiological changes in the body, nutrition or occurs for unknown reasons (primary osteoporosis). Osteoarthritis arises with age due to wear and tear on the cartilage. It can sometimes be linked to prior injury to the joint but is mainly an age related slow down in the body’s ability to repair the cartilage.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis

Osteoporosis is largely asymptomatic – without symptoms. Eventually there is bone pain, frequent fractures, loss of height and weight associated with the reduced bone density. Osteoarthritis is a painful joint condition. The pain tends to start with prolonged use or pressure on the joint and eases with rest. The joint gradually loses its range of motion over time and sometimes there are audible grating sounds from the joint in osteoarthritis.

Treatment of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis

Osteoporosis treatment involves drugs, nutritional supplementation and exercise. These therapeutic measures can reverse the condition in the early stages or at least halt its progression. Osteoarthritis cannot be as effectively treated. Pain relieving medication can ease the pain associated with the condition. The key is to manage the condition and limit the damage of the cartilage. Eventually a joint replacement may be needed if the condition is severe or long standing.

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