Osteoarthritis vs. Osteoporosis

It’s easy to confuse two different bone diseases: osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. As you age, you’re more susceptible to both of these conditions, although they can occur at any age due to specific circumstances.

Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Coastal Empire Orthopedics specialize in treating these and other common musculoskeletal conditions. You’re more likely to come to see us because of the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis. Osteoporosis often doesn’t present dangerous symptoms until there’s a fracture, but we can help you avoid that fate with simple testing and treatment. 

What is osteoarthritis? 

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that causes painful, stiff, and sometimes swollen joints. It can limit mobility — moving is too painful. You have a cushion of strong but soft tissue called cartilage between the bones in your joints. The cartilage protects your bones so that they don’t rub together. Either because of accident, injury, or wear and tear, your cartilage can become thin to the point where you’re experiencing bone-on-bone friction, which is very painful. You have osteoarthritis. 

Causes of osteoarthritis

We see many patients with osteoarthritis in the knees, hips, back, neck, and hands. Think of the workout your knees and hips have undergone during your lifetime. This type of arthritis can develop because of wear and tear from years of playing sports or working conditions; for example, a warehouse worker could develop shoulder arthritis from lifting boxes above the head repetitively. 

Genetics play a role as with other physical conditions you may develop; if osteoarthritis runs in your family, you’re more likely to develop it. Obesity is also a risk factor; the extra pressure on your joints can cause cartilage breakdown. 

Treatment for osteoarthritis

Our goal is to help you regain mobility and flexibility in your painful joints. Medication, ice, and active and passive physical therapy modalities go a long way toward helping you function. We also use regenerative medicine approaches, which use your own body’s healing mechanisms to stimulate new cell growth. Lifestyle changes and losing weight can help relieve painful symptoms. 

What is osteoporosis? 

Think of the word “porous” in relation to osteoporosis. The word means “porous bone.” Your bone normally looks like a honeycomb when seen with the aid of a microscope. When you develop osteoporosis, the spaces in the honeycomb structure are abnormally large. Your bones don’t have normal density anymore. Because they’re weakened, your bones are at more risk for fracture. 

If you have osteoporosis in your spinal cord, you may have lost height and have severe back pain. More than 50 million Americans have low bone mass that increases the risk of osteoporosis. Did you know that up to half of females and a quarter of males age 50 and older break at least one bone because of osteoporosis?  

Unlike osteoarthritis, many people don’t know they have osteoporosis. You can’t feel your bones getting weaker. Losing height or sustaining a fracture may be the first indication of it. 

What causes osteoporosis?

Women are more susceptible to osteoporosis because of the loss of estrogen during menopause. The decline in estrogen leads to more bone breakdown and fewer osteoblasts that build new bone to replace the old. At age 70, men and women have 30 to 40 percent less bone mass than in their 20s

As you age, you also don’t absorb critical vitamins as well as in your youth. If you’re deficient in calcium and Vitamin D, you could develop osteoporosis. A simple blood test determines whether you lack these nutrients. 

Are you a couch potato? Lack of exercise is another risk factor for osteoporosis, especially as you age. There’s a reason why the medical profession says exercise is a key to good health. Exercise promotes bone development.  

Your habits can also lead to osteoporosis. Smoking limits blood supply to your bones, limits the number of cells that form bone, and reduces your ability to absorb calcium. Drinking alcohol causes brittle bones, leading to fractures. 

Your Coastal Empire Orthopedics physician counsels you on when you should get a bone density test. A baseline test at age 65 is appropriate. If you have risk factors for bone loss, you may need a test sooner. Many health conditions place you at increased risk: autoimmune disorders, cancer, digestive disorders, hormonal disorders, blood disorders, and more. 

Call or book an appointment online with Coastal Empire Orthopedics for expert treatment of osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and other musculoskeletal conditions. We’re your partner in your musculoskeletal health.  

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