How does an arthritic joint differ from a healthy joint?

Arthritic joints are different from healthy joints in the following ways: They have less lubrication, more synovial inflammation, less cartilage at the ends of the bones, more bone spurs from joint instability, reactive bone marrow cysts and thickening of the bone at the joints since there is a loss of some of the cartilage that normally lies over the bone.
Charles S. Rutherford, MD
Orthopedic Surgery
An arthritic joint differs from a healthy joint in that a healthy joint should be covered with cartilage, like the glistening of a chicken bone. Joints need that to slide smooth and pain-free. In an arthritic joint there is no cartilage.

On an x-ray, cartilage looks like an empty space even though it’s filled with cartilage. Doctors can tell how thick that cartilage is by getting x-rays.

In an x-ray of an osteoarthritic joint, there's no cartilage. The bone just rubs on the bone. There may be a degenerative cyst, which is a response to the wear-and-tear changes. That's typical of osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is not just a wearing out, it's a disease that eats up the joint. An x-ray will show a global loss of the cartilage space. That's because the inflammatory processes destroyed cartilage more globally.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.