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Osteoporosis vs. Osteoarthritis

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
5 minute readLast updated February 10, 2024

Seeing your loved one face bone and joint problems may raise questions about osteoarthritis and osteoporosis: How can we prevent or manage these disabilities? What does this diagnosis mean for my parent? It’s often difficult to watch your aging parents struggle. Fortunately, there are steps they can take to help reduce joint pain and prevent fractures. Encouraging them to exercise, take their medication, and follow a healthy diet can boost their bone and joint health, making life more comfortable for your loved one, even with osteoarthritis or osteoporosis.

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What is the difference between osteoporosis and osteoarthritis?

Osteoporosis is not the same as osteoarthritis. The core difference between osteoarthritis and osteoporosis lies in where they strike.
  • Osteoarthritis affects the joints and cartilage. It is often due to wear and tear over time or injury, leading to a breakdown of cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in joints.[01]
  • Osteoporosis affects the bones. It is often linked to aging, lack of exercise, hormonal changes, or calcium and vitamin D deficiency.
It is common for people to have both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, which is why the two are often mixed up. Osteoarthritis brings about joint pain and limits joint movement, making daily activities harder. On the other hand, osteoporosis thins the bones, increasing the chance of fractures.[02]

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Who gets osteoporosis?

More than 10 million people over 50 in the U.S. have osteoporosis, and over 43 million are at risk due to low bone mass. Although both men and women can get osteoporosis, it’s more common in women. Certain medicines, previous health issues, a poor diet, or not enough exercise can all increase the risk of weak bones and osteoporosis.[03] Keeping an eye on your parents’ health and helping them stay active are good ways to help prevent osteoporosis.

Who gets osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, particularly in older adults. It’s more likely in people who have had joint injuries, overuse their joints, are overweight, or are older. Women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis, especially after age 50. Osteoarthritis mainly affects the hands, hips, and knees. When the symptoms become severe, knee or other joint replacements may be necessary to minimize pain and regain mobility.

Eating habits for healthy bones and joints

Calcium plays an important role in maintaining bone health, as it’s the main mineral found in bones. The body also uses calcium for other functions, such as muscle movement and nerve signaling. It’s important to ensure your loved one is getting enough calcium to keep their body healthy and strong.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the following daily calcium intake:
  • 1,200 mg per day for women over 50 and men over 70
  • 1,000 mg per day for men between 50 and 70[04]
You can help your parents get calcium by including foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, and leafy greens like spinach in their diet. These foods help keep their bones strong, which helps prevent osteoporosis and fractures as they age.
Vitamin D is an essential part of the equation, too. The NIH recommends at least 600 international units (IU) daily for adults aged 51 to 70 and 800 IUs daily for seniors over 70.[05]
Eating the right foods can help your parents have stronger bones and less joint pain from arthritis. Fruits and vegetables are great for bones and can even help reduce inflammation. Whole grains, low-fat milk products, fish, and lean meats are also good choices. Glucosamine sulfate dietary supplements are also effective at reducing knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Exercises for bone density and range of motion

Exercise plans can be developed according to each patient’s needs and level of activity. Recommendations are based on age, the extent of bone loss or joint pain, and other factors. Activities like walking, jogging, and lifting weights help keep bones healthy, while low-impact activities like yoga and tai chi can help with joint mobility. If your loved one already has bone loss or joint issues, ask their doctor about safe exercise options that fit their needs and abilities.

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Medical help for bone and joint issues

Several hormone treatments and drugs are available to help stop and even reverse bone loss. For osteoarthritis, treatment focuses on pain relief with over-the-counter medicines or prescription painkillers. For both conditions, physical therapy and targeted exercises may offer improvement, as may acupuncture, massage, and meditation.
Finally, because bone loss can happen without symptoms, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends bone density testing for women at 65 and men at 70, with earlier scans for anyone over 50 who breaks a bone, loses height, or has osteoporosis risk factors.[06]

How you can help your aging parents with bone and joint health

Taking care of your parents as they get older and face issues like osteoporosis or osteoarthritis can be tough, but there are lots of ways you can support them. Start by making sure they eat a healthy diet and stay active. This can make a big difference in keeping their bones strong and their joints moving smoothly.
It’s also a good idea to keep up with their doctor visits and get tests like bone density scans when needed, especially if your parents are over age 65. These tests help doctors catch any bone problems early. If your parents have pain or other symptoms, the doctor might suggest specific medicines, physical therapy, or other treatments that can help.
Remember, every little thing you do to help your parents makes a big difference. It’s not just about their health; it’s about making sure they have a good quality of life. And when you know you’re helping them the best you can, it’s good for you, too.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, June 12). Osteoarthritis (OA).

  2. National Council on Aging. (2020, October 1). Osteoarthritis vs osteoporosis: What are the differences?

  3. Porter, J. L., & Varacallo, M. (2023, August 4). Osteoporosis. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.

  4. National Institutes of Health. (2024, January 3). Calcium.

  5. National Institutes of Health. (2023, September 18). Vitamin D.

  6. Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation. (2022, March 8). Evaluation of bone health/bone density testing.

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OurParents Staff

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