De Los Santos Medical Center 201 E. Rodriguez Sr. Boulevard, Quezon City
Arthritis Center: (02) 877-38-88


Calcium for Osteoarthritis?

by Jose Fernando Syquia, MD, FPOA

“May I take calcium for my osteoarthritis?” A seemingly simple question that hides a glaring reality – a lot of our patients confuse osteoarthritis with osteoporosis.

There are several possible reasons for this confusion. Both are medical terms that deal with the skeletal system. They both start with “osteo”. They both have six syllables. And people often contract the word “osteoarthritis” to “osteo”, as when explaining to another person why one has joint pain: “ May osteo kasi ako” (I have osteo).

But these words refer to two very different conditions. Osteoarthritis deals with the joint while osteoporosis deals with the bone itself. In osteoarthritis, the joint is damaged. In osteoporosis, the bone becomes weak. As to the etymology of the words, “osteo” comes from the Greek word “osteon” that means bone, “arthr” comes from “arthron” that means joint, “itis” refers to an inflammation, and “porosis” is from the Greek word “poros” that means pore or a small opening on a surface.

Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage that is found at the ends of the bones that form a joint is damaged. This results in pain, stiffness, swelling, and deformity of the involved joint. The closest thing that we have to a cure for this disease is a joint replacement. However, the main goal of treatment is to control the symptoms. To this end, medications, weight control, lifestyle modification, injections, and physical therapy may be prescribed.

Osteoporosis, on the other hand, is a condition in which the bone mass decreases to a point that the risk of developing fractures increases. In other words, the skeleton becomes fragile. In this condition, the bone mineral content and the organic component of bone are less than normal. Osteoporosis is diagnosed using a bone mineral density examination. Prevention involves having adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, regular exercise, and avoiding those activities (e.g., cigarette smoking) that reduce bone mass.

Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis will be discussed in more detail in later articles. But in answer to the question of whether calcium is a treatment for osteoarthritis or not, the answer must be in the negative. Calcium is for osteoporosis. 

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