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  • Writer's pictureMark Austin

Osteoarthritis vs. Osteoarthrosis: Understanding the Key Differences

Updated: May 23, 2023


Most of us have heard of the term 'osteoarthritis,' but have you heard of 'osteoarthrosis'? Knowing the difference between the two can have a significant impact on your treatment and recovery.

In my clinical experience, after patients undergo imaging to investigate joint, back, or neck pain that has persisted for a few weeks or months, the results often show signs of wear and tear. These patients are usually diagnosed by their physicians with 'osteoarthritis,' a term that most of us are familiar with. However, an X-ray or MRI showing joint degeneration is not enough to conclude that this is the actual diagnosis. We all experience wear and tear in our joints over time. In fact, some studies show up to 80% of us will show signs of wear and tear on a lumbar spine x-ray by even the age of 30. Furthermore, this kind of wear and tear isn't well correlated to someone's level of pain or function.

While these terms are often used interchangeably, even by family physicians and specialists, it is crucial to understand their unique characteristics. as the treatment for each may be quite different. By gaining clarity on the differences between osteoarthritis and osteoarthrosis, you can make informed decisions about your treatment and self-care.

Osteoarthritis Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint condition that primarily affects the cartilage, the smooth tissue that covers the ends of bones within joints. It is commonly associated with aging, wear and tear, joint injuries, or genetic factors. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage gradually deteriorates, leading to joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced mobility. Importantly, osteoarthritis is characterized by inflammation within the joint, which contributes to symptoms such as swelling, warmth, and tenderness.

Osteoarthrosis Osteoarthrosis is a broader term that encompasses the degenerative changes occurring in joints over time. It refers to the structural and functional alterations in the joint components beyond just the cartilage. Osteoarthrosis acknowledges the general wear and tear that our joints experience as part of the natural aging process, without always being associated with pain and inflammation. It highlights the non-specific changes observed in joint tissues, including the underlying bone, synovium, ligaments, and other joint structures. Osteoarthrosis is not always associated with inflammation and can even be asymptomatic, or at least poorly correlated with someone’s level of pain and function.

Key Differences To better understand the differences between osteoarthritis and osteoarthrosis, let's consider the following key points:

Specific vs. Non-Specific: Osteoarthritis specifically targets the degeneration of cartilage, leading to pain, inflammation, and functional limitations. Osteoarthrosis, on the other hand, is a more non-specific term that encompasses the broader joint degenerative changes, which may or may not be associated with pain and inflammation.

Inflammation: Osteoarthritis is characterized by inflammation within the joint, resulting in symptoms such as swelling, warmth, and tenderness. In contrast, osteoarthrosis generally lacks significant inflammation and may be less symptomatic, reflecting the non-specific changes occurring in joint tissues over time.

Natural Aging Process: Osteoarthrosis acknowledges that joint degeneration is a normal part of the aging process that affects everyone to some extent. It emphasizes the wear and tear that our joints undergo over time, which may not always result in clinical symptoms or require intervention.

Osteoarthritis and osteoarthrosis represent distinct aspects of joint degeneration. Osteoarthritis specifically targets the cartilage, leading to pain, inflammation, and functional limitations. On the other hand, osteoarthrosis is a more non-specific term that encompasses the natural wear and tear experienced by our joints over time, which may or may not be associated with pain and inflammation.

Recognizing the differences between these terms is crucial for understanding your condition and making informed decisions about your treatment and self-care. If you experience joint pain or other symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management. In my practice, we rely on thorough assessment to determine an accurate diagnosis between the two, educate thoroughly, and develop individualized treatment plans to manage each.

Remember, knowledge is power in effectively managing your joint health and overall well-being! If you are looking to recover from joint pain and dysfunction or look for ways to maximize your joint health for life, book in today.

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