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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis the same?

    I have had a persistant pain in my finger joints for some time and I’m wondering if the pain caused by both these conditions is experienced in the same way or if each is a different sort of pain.
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  • 4

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    Adam Floyd

    Physiotherapist

    Adam is a Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist with over 15 years clinical experience. The Director of Regenerate Physiotherapy, Regenerate Fitness and Rehabilitation and GymED Continuing … View Profile

    In the fingers, joints affected by osteoarthritis will normally be distal joints - the distal interphalangeal joint (the one closest to the fingertips) or the proximal interphalangeal joint (the second joint away from the fingertips).

    On the other hand, pain from rheumatoid arthritis or the damage by rheumatoid arthritis is usually from the metacarpal interphalangeal joint (the third joint away, where the fingers join the hands). With rheumatoid arthritis we do see often quite a large deformity of the joints of the hand.

    This is a difficult question to answer because pain is felt differently by different people, but typically rheumatoid arthritis is associated with inflammatory pain which is often described as constant and unremitting, and will depend on barometric pressure and changes in weather.

  • 3

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    Dr Chana Sztajer has treated seniors all over the world, most notably as the only Australian chiropractor ever to work on the Queen Mary 2. … View Profile

    This IS a hard question to answer, like my colleague above has said, due to the various ways that different people will react to the same issue. Both types of arthritis are worse with movement, and although generally rheumatoid arthritis can be constant, osteoarthritis sufferers often talk about ‘aching joints’ when resting as well.

    I think to best answer this question we need to look at the causes of the two types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is mainly caused by general wear and tear of the cartilage leading to exposure of the bony surfaces of the joint, or by an injury to the joint. It may also affect only one hand, or one joint even, depending on the overall wear and tear of the joint - so, just the left knee, or the right index finger for example. The fingers may be swollen but there will probably not be an increased warmth from the swelling, and the swellings may not actually be painful to the touch.

    Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is a systemic disease based on the presence of a particular antibody in the blood known as Rheumatoid Factor. The joints affected are therefore usually symmetrical - ie it will usually affect both sides of the body, not just the one - and fingers and toes are usually the first to be affected. There may also be swellings, but they are often described as ‘boggy’ in texture and tender to touch, and overlying skin will usually be warmer than normal. Rheumatoid arthritis will often show deformities which include a deviation of the fingers away from the thumb and a fixed flexed position of the digits.

    I hope this helps.
    Yours sincerely,
    Chana Sztajer

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