Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Arthritis Diagnosis

It’s normal for everyone to have aches and pains from time to time. However, when pain doesn’t seem to go away (or gets worse) and begins to get in the way of everyday life, it may be time to see a healthcare provider.

A diagnosis14 of arthritis begins with an assessment of your signs and symptoms. To determine the underlying cause of your discomfort, your healthcare provider will likely begin by asking some questions. They will ask about your signs and symptoms, family history, general health, and your health history and habits.

You will be asked questions about how long the pain has been present, where the pain is located, and how intense it is. Symptoms like swelling or warm sensations may be more telltale signs of inflammation, so it’s important to include those if they occur.

After discussing your signs and symptoms, your provider may also recommend that you undergo testing before receiving a diagnosis. Nerve tests and tissue tests may sometimes be used.

Imaging tests15 are also commonly used to diagnose arthritis, including:

  • X-rays: X-rays use low levels of radiation to create images that can show bone damage, bone spurs, and cartilage loss. This is often most helpful in tracking the progression of arthritis and how much damage has occurred.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans: CT scans use X-rays taken from multiple angles to create cross-sectional views of the inside of the body. This is useful for taking images of both bones and tissues.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI combines radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to create cross-sectional images that are more detailed than those taken by CT scans. This is helpful for viewing soft tissues, such as tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to take images of soft tissues, cartilage, and fluid-filled structures found near the joints (called bursae). This can also be used during procedures that require accurate needle placement, such as joint aspirations and injections.

It is important to note that, at times, it can be difficult to diagnose arthritis16. This is due to the many different types of the disease, as well as the fact that symptoms like joint pain and stiffness are normal parts of aging. That is why making a positive diagnosis is so important—it allows your provider to begin the proper treatment.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.