Arthritis has become a modern epidemic affecting 1 out of every 4 people in the U.S.* Arthritis strictly speaking means inflammation of the joints. Symptoms often include pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility.  Left untreated it can lead to permanent joint damage. We hope to help you understand the difference between two of the more common forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) and rheumatoid arthritis.


Simply stated, osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is the “wear and tear” arthritis that increases as we get older. Its development can also be accelerated by physical trauma which might occur from accident or sports injuries.  Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the large weightbearing joints, such as the hips and knees.  Although, it can occur in other joints such as the shoulders and fingers.


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Auto-immunity occurs when something triggers the immune system to start attacking your body. Rheumatoid arthritis is a symmetric polyarthritis which more often affects the small joints of the body such as the wrists, hands, and feet.

Let’s dissect that last sentence. Symmetric polyarthritis, which is to say it involves both sides of the body and multiple joints.

Whereas a test called rheumatoid factor would support a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, the diagnosis is made based on symptoms, not solely on blood tests.


So, think of osteoarthritis as affecting the large weightbearing joints and occurs from wear and tear and on the other hand rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder which most commonly impacts the small joints of the extremities. Why is this distinction important?

Functional medicine looks for the root cause of the problem. Often with autoimmune disorders,  the problem is arising from increased intestinal permeability or what is commonly referred to as “leaky gut”.


The main purpose of our small intestine is to provide the surface area to absorb our nutrients. The mucosa or lining of the small intestine should act as a filter (much like a cheese cloth) allowing nutrients in and keeping the undigested food particles and bacteria in the small intestine from getting into the blood stream.  With leaky gut the damage to your cheese cloth allows this “sewage” to percolate in the bloodstream. Often it gets trapped in the synovium, the lining of the joints.  Therefore it causes the systemic inflammation of the joints we call rheumatoid arthritis.

If you have one autoimmune disorder you’re 3 times more likely to get a second. For example, if you have autoimmune thyroiditis (also referred to as Hashimoto’s) or rheumatoid arthritis, you are 3 times more likely to get a second autoimmune disorder.  We believe that by “sealing and healing” your leaky gut, we can help to prevent this autoimmune cascade.


Although the root causes of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are different. We see some overlap in terms of treatment recommendations. In both cases you want to optimize digestive health. It is more important in the case of autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, to take measures to protect the joints. By adopting a healthy anti-inflammatory lifestyle with focus on the four pillars:

  • nutrition/appropriate supplementation
  • stress management
  • sleep
  • mobility or exercise.


*Currently there is an autoimmune epidemic-to learn more, watch the video we produced on this topic.


Various supplements are available, which can help decrease systemic inflammation and support a healthy joint environment. Let the Care Group help you decrease your joint inflammation (whatever the cause) and develop a plan to put you on the road to optimal health.

CALL 303-343-3121