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How is joint pain different in rheumatoid arthritis than osteoarthritis?

Natalie E. Azar, MD
Internal Medicine

The joint pain symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis differ in that RA creates more inflammation/swelling, and morning stiffness lasts longer. Watch rheumatologist Natalie Azar, MD, discuss how RA symptoms tend to be more severe.


Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis both cause joints to become painful, stiff and tender. However, the pain of rheumatoid arthritis has some distinctive qualities:

  • It can be sporadic. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis live with persistent pain. But in many others, the pain comes and goes. You might have a string of relatively pain-free days, followed by a period where the pain flares up.
  • It's often symmetrical. In other words, the pain occurs in the same joints on both sides of the body. If you have rheumatoid arthritis and develop pain in your right wrist, chances are your left wrist will hurt too.
  • It's not limited to the joints. Osteoarthritis is a disease of the knees, hips and other joints. So is rheumatoid arthritis, but this disease can also affect other body parts, including the lungs, skin, eyes and others.
  • It's an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system goes haywire, attacking healthy tissue and joints. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints wears out and the bones begin rubbing together.

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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.