According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Americans suffering from severe joint pain is rising

Between 2002 and 2014, the number of people experiencing joint pain increased from 10.5 million to 14.6 million. These numbers, which are only expected to rise, are largely attributed to arthritis. In short, arthritis is a condition in which cartilage begins to wear down due to age and/or extensive use, which in turn causes bones at the intersections of joints to rub against each other. Arthritis is one of the foremost causes for joint pain (more than 50 million adults suffered from some form of arthritis in 2015), and can range from mild discomfort to debilitating pain. The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

While the primary symptoms of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are inflamed joints, the nature of the two are actually quite different

Osteoarthritis fits the aforementioned definition, in that it is a chronic condition that involves the wearing down of cartilage/joints largely due to age and repeated use.

Conversely, rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy joint tissue. Thus, anyone is liable to experience osteoarthritis, where rheumatoid arthritis is generally thought to be the result of a genetic predisposition. Osteoarthritis therefore affects a far greater size of the population (upwards of 20 million Americans) in comparison to those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (1.3 million). Though arthritis is a leading cause of joint pain, other causes of joint pain include lupus, gout, and fibromyalgia.

Considering joint pain is most likely linked to arthritis, the majority of joint pain symptoms reflect either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid

Though the symptoms of each often overlap, there are some subtle differences that can help one distinguish between which form of arthritis might be causing the inflammation. Osteoarthritis typically manifests as a dull or aching pain, is accompanied by stiffness and/or a limited range of motion, and is usually worse in the morning immediately after waking up. While rheumatoid arthritis symptoms also include aching and stiffness, other symptoms can be more severe. Considering the auto-immune nature of rheumatoid arthritis, symptoms of joint pain can be accompanied by fevers, deep muscle aches, weight loss, and excessive fatigue. Rheumatoid arthritis is also different in that its onset is usually quite rapid, unlike the slow and gradual onset of osteoarthritis. Moreover, another crucial difference in the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is that it is a symmetrical disease, which means that joint pains are equal for each side of the body. Osteoarthritis symptoms, on the other hand, are usually worse for one side of the body than the other. Though arthritis is largely unavoidable for many people, there are several preventive habits and activities that one can do to help mitigate the severity of joint pain. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and abstaining from smoking have all been known to help alleviate arthritis-related joint pain.

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