Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are different conditions, but both affect the musculoskeletal system. Older age may increase the risk.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease where bone mass and bone mineral density decrease, leading to an increased risk of the bones breaking. Osteoarthritis (OA) is arthritis in which the cartilage around joints wears away.

This article examines the similarities and differences of both conditions, symptoms to be aware of, treatment, and prevention tips.

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Both conditions affect the musculoskeletal system, including the bones, joints, cartilage, ligaments, and muscles. OA affects the entire joint, while osteoporosis affects the bones.

Research suggests that without intervention, osteoporosis and OA may lead to negative effects such as increased risk of pain, changes in social life, and reduced quality of life.

The risk of either condition may increase with age. OA may more commonly affect people over the age of 50, while osteoporosis occurs more commonly in older females or postmenopausal females.

Research also suggests there may be certain biomarkers that could be early indicators of OA or osteoporosis.

OA is a joint disease where joint tissues gradually break down. OA affects the whole joint, including the cartilage, ligaments, and joint lining. It can also cause inflammation and alter bone shape.

Symptoms of OA may appear gradually and include:

  • aching or painful joints
  • stiffness, usually in the morning
  • limited range of motion
  • clicking or popping sounds in the joint
  • joint swelling
  • joint instability or buckling

Various factors may increase the risk of developing OA, including:

  • being over the age of 50
  • joint injury or overuse
  • obesity
  • malalignment of bone structure or joints
  • weak muscles, which can also lead to poor alignment
  • genetics
  • being female
  • environmental factors, such as level of physical activity and diet

Learn more about OA.

Osteoporosis is a bone condition where bone tissue breaks down faster than the body can rebuild or replace it. This means the bones become thinner and more brittle and can break more easily.

Osteoporosis has no symptoms unless there is a fracture. People will often mistakenly attribute their joint aches and pains to osteoporosis when it is, in fact, osteoarthritis responsible for their symptoms.

Some people may notice the following:

  • tooth loss, if osteoporosis affects the jaw
  • back pain, which could indicate a vertebral or compression fracture
  • loss of height
  • broken bone
  • hump in the upper back

Factors that may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis include:

Learn more about osteoporosis.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research suggests that people who have a parent with a history of osteoporosis or broken hip may have an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

According to the Arthritis Foundation (AF), people are more likely to develop OA if they have a family member with the condition.

Younger people may develop OA if they have a genetic defect of the cartilage.

Although there are factors people cannot control, such as their genes, they can take steps to reduce their risk of developing OA or osteoporosis.

Preventing OA

The following may help to prevent or delay OA:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Excess weight can put extra pressure on joints such as the hips or knees, which can cause cartilage to break down. Fat cells also promote inflammation, which can weaken cartilage.
  • Managing blood sugar: High blood sugar can stiffen cartilage, and diabetes can cause inflammation that can result in loss of cartilage.
  • Taking regular exercise: Doing at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week can help keep the joints flexible and strengthen the muscles that support joints.
  • Protecting the joints: When lifting or carrying heavy items, use the largest and strongest joints. If an injury occurs, maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) can help protect against further joint damage.
  • Adopting healthy lifestyle habits: Avoiding smoking, limiting or avoiding alcohol, managing stress, and getting quality sleep can all help protect against OA.

Learn how to prevent arthritis.

Preventing osteoporosis

The following lifestyle habits may help prevent osteoporosis:

Learn about physical exercises for osteoporosis.

Protein may help to increase bone mineral density. The recommended daily protein intake is 0.4g grams (g) per pound (lb.) of body weight. This means if a person weighs 140 lb, they will need to consume around 60 g of protein daily.

Calcium is an important component of bone health. Dairy products, black-eyed peas, leafy green vegetables, and calcium-fortified products are all good sources.

The AF recommends the following daily requirements of calcium:

  • people aged 19–49, and people who are pregnant or nursing: 1,000 milligrams (mg)
  • people aged 50 and above, people who are postmenopausal and not taking estrogen supplements, and people taking corticosteroids: 1,200 mg

Vitamin D helps the body to better absorb calcium. Some people may be able to get vitamin D from short periods of exposure to the sun.

Other sources include liver, fish oil, and foods fortified with vitamin D. People can also take vitamin D3 supplements. Daily requirements of vitamin D are as follows:

  • people 70 or younger: 600 international units (IU)
  • people 71 or older: 800 IU

Eating a healthy, balanced diet may also help people maintain a moderate weight. Losing excess weight can relieve extra pressure on joints and slow down joint damage.

Learn about foods to eat and avoid for osteoporosis.

People will need to consult a doctor if they notice any symptoms of OA, such as:

  • joint pain, aching, or swelling
  • stiffness, which may be worse in the morning
  • reduced range of motion
  • clicking or popping sounds in a joint

Osteoporosis may not always cause noticeable symptoms. People who have one or more risk factors for osteoporosis can talk with a doctor about getting a bone density test and ways to reduce their risk.

Although there is no cure for OA, treatments and lifestyle changes can help ease symptoms and reduce further joint damage. In some cases, people may require surgery to replace a damaged joint.

Some medications can help slow down bone loss by reducing resorption of bone, and other medications can increase the formation of new bone for people with osteoporosis. Lifestyle changes can also help maintain bone mass and prevent further bone loss.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease in which bone mass and mineral density decrease. This can increase the risk of fractures.

OA is a form of arthritis in which the cartilage around joints wears away, which can cause joint pain and reduced range of motion.

Older age, joint injury, and obesity can be risk factors for OA. Being female, going through menopause, and taking certain medications are risk factors for osteoporosis.

Lifestyle changes and medications can help people manage the conditions.