Your joint health becomes increasingly more important as you age. Both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are prevalent conditions among those aged 50 and up. While there are a few similarities between these bone-related disorders, they have distinct challenges, diagnoses, and treatments. We’ll help you understand the differences between osteoarthritis and osteoporosis by breaking down their symptoms, causes, and treatments. 

Key takeaways:

  • Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease while osteoporosis is a condition related to reduced bone density. 

  • People with osteoarthritis experience chronic joint pain and stiffness while people with osteoporosis often won’t know they have the condition until they fracture a bone. 

  • Both conditions have a higher risk of development in women, older adults aged 50 and up, and those who have a genetic predisposition to the diseases.

  • Treatment for osteoarthritis involves measures that manage pain and make mobility more comfortable. Treating osteoporosis includes measures to help strengthen bone density and minimize the risk of fractures. 

Definition of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis

While both conditions affect your bones and overall musculoskeletal health, there are a few differences between osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease while osteoporosis is a condition related to reduced bone density. 

One key difference between the two is that a person experiences chronic joint pain and stiffness with osteoarthritis. With osteoporosis, which is often referred to as a “silent disease,” a person will often not know they have the condition until they break a bone.

Similarities between osteoarthritis and osteoporosis include who it affects. Both conditions have a higher risk of development in women, older adults aged 50 and up, and those who have a genetic predisposition to the diseases.

What is osteoarthritis 

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that breaks down the joint and surrounding tissue. It’s most common to experience osteoarthritis in your hands, hips, knees, lower back, and neck. As the joints wear down, it can be difficult to move around comfortably. You can experience pain, stiffness, and a limited range of motion with osteoarthritis. 

What is osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone density disorder characterized by reduced bone mass. This weakening of the bone leads to an increased risk of broken bones. 

Symptoms of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis

Although people who have osteoarthritis or osteoporosis both experience painful symptoms, the physical signs of these bone-related conditions are different.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

Indications of osteoarthritis develop slowly over the course of a person’s life. Symptoms include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness: People with osteoarthritis commonly experience discomfort when moving their joints.

  • Swelling and tenderness: A common sign of osteoarthritis is inflammation and tenderness around impacted joints. 

  • Limited range of motion and discomfort: People with osteoarthritis often experience a restricted range of motion. When moving, you may also experience a grating feeling as well as popping or crackling noises around the joint.

  • Bone spurs: Osteoarthritis may cause bone spurs, which are extra pieces of bone that form around impacted joints.

Symptoms of osteoporosis

Oftentimes people with osteoporosis are unaware they have the condition until they break a bone. Still, there are a few symptoms to look out for with osteoporosis: 

  • Vertebral fractures: A spine fracture caused by reduced bone density may occur in those affected by osteoporosis. The symptoms of a spine fracture related to osteoporosis include:

  • Back pain

  • Loss of height over time

  • Stooped or hunched posture

  • Fragile bones: People with osteoporosis can break bones even after minor falls or common activities, like bending, lifting, or coughing. 

Causes of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis

You’re more at risk for both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis if you are genetically predisposed or over the age of 50. Additional causes of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis differ.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Factors that contribute to osteoarthritis include aging, wear-and-tear on the joints over time, genetic predisposition, and joint injuries. People who play physically intense sports or experienced accidents are more susceptible to developing osteoarthritis. Like osteoporosis, the condition is also more likely to impact women than men.

Causes of Osteoporosis

Factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis include aging (age-related bone density loss), hormonal changes, and a lack of bone-enriching nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, especially postmenopause, since the dramatic change in hormone levels can trigger a loss in bone density.

Treatments for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis

Multiple treatments are often recommended to effectively and holistically manage osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

Treatments for Osteoarthritis

With osteoarthritis, treatment involves a variety of measures that manage pain and make movement more comfortable. Treatments may include:

  • Pain relieving and anti-inflammatory drugs

  • Physical therapy to strengthen and improve joint function

  • Joint replacement surgery to restore mobility and relieve pain in more severe cases

Treatments for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis treatments help to strengthen bone density and minimize the risk of fractures. Treatments may include:

  • Supplements for calcium and vitamin D 

  • Bone-strengthening medications

  • Physical therapy and fall–prevention strategies 

  • Home safety measures, like using assistive devices.

Does Medicare cover treatments for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis?

Yes, Medicare will cover certain treatments for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis if deemed medically necessary. In some cases, Medicare coverage for osteoporosis includes additional services for women experiencing the condition as it relates to hormonal changes. 

Both Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage will help pay for the cost of physical therapy and surgery. If it’s medically necessary, there is no limit on physical therapy sessions covered each year. 

A Medicare Part D plan covers prescription medications. This includes medications for pain management, bone-strengthening, anti-inflammatory, and any other medications associated with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. 

Because Medicare coverage varies, it’s always important to check your specific insurance coverage for details like how much services and medications will cost. 

If you have more questions around what Medicare covers for osteoporosis and osteoarthritis treatments, we’re here to help! Schedule a free consultation or call us at (855) 900-2427 to get your questions answered and better understand your coverage.

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