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Diagnosing Knee Osteoarthritis

knee pain


There is no single test to diagnose knee osteoarthritis. Medical practitioners use a wide range of methods to investigate the area around the knee before a diagnosis can be confirmed.

Most people over the age of 50 will have some signs of osteoarthritis in their joints. This will appear on x-rays even if individuals do not suffer from any symptoms. A medical practitioner will use other methods like a thorough physical examination and a detailed medical history alongside x-rays for an accurate diagnosis.

To decide if the patients’ symptoms are linked to knee osteoarthritis, a medical practitioner will:

Speak to the patient
A medical practitioner will ask about family history to determine if osteoarthritis runs in the family. Symptoms will be discussed in detail. The medical practitioner will want to know what brings on the pain and swelling, what makes it worse or better, what problems is it causing to your daily life. The more detailed information a medical practitioner has, it will help the patient get an accurate diagnosis with the best possible treatment plan.
Physical examination of the knee
A medical practitioner will carry out a physical examination of the knee and look for signs of pain, stiffness, swelling and movement. The joints in the knee are linked to other parts of the body so the examination will go beyond the actual knee, the area above and below will also have to be examined.
Once the medical practitioner has spoken to the patient and carried out a physical examination then it should be quite clear if it is knee osteoarthritis. Other tests are carried out to confirm the diagnosis and the extent of the condition.

X-rays are used as they show if cartilage has been lost or if there are bone spurs. Damage to the cartilage or bone spur growth on a sensitive area can cause a lot of pain. This is why some people experience extreme pain but the x-rays only show a few signs of osteoarthritis and there are people whom experience very little pain but the x-rays show substantial signs of osteoarthritis. Hence x-rays are used alongside other tests.

An MRI is also used to get a more detailed image of the tendons, muscles, ligaments and bones in the knee. Sometimes results from x-rays can be inadequate so an MRI can give a better idea to the extent of the damage to the knee joint. Nevertheless, an MRI takes up to 30 minutes of the patient sitting still and it is a more expensive option. Generally an MRI is not needed for a straight forward case of knee osteoarthritis.

There are other tests that can also be carried out like a blood test or fluid taken from the knee joint. These tests do not detect the existence of knee osteoarthritis but they can show up any signs of infection or gout that may cause knee pain.



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