Diagnosing osteoarthritis

Last modified: December 12, 2019

Osteoarthritis is diagnosed by either an orthopedist or a physiotherapist. Both of these groups are specialists in osteoarthritis but have different approaches.

Who can diagnose osteoarthritis?

There are a few different professions that can diagnose osteoarthritis. These are physical therapists, general practitioners, and orthopedic surgeons. An orthopedic surgeon (i.e. an orthopedist) primarily handles the need for prosthetic knee or hip surgery, while a physical therapist focuses more on treatment in the form of exercise and training. Both are well qualified to diagnose osteoarthritis. A physiotherapist can also refer the patient to an orthopedist if needed, and vice versa.

Clinical diagnosis of osteoarthritis instead of an x-ray exam

Traditionally, osteoarthritis has been diagnosed using an x-ray. Unfortunately, it’s still a widespread belief that this is the correct way of going about it. However, according to several international institutions, osteoarthritis should be seen as a clinical diagnosis. This is an approach that focuses on whether or not the patient needs care, rather than whether the changes in the joint are visible. More patients can then get the proper care in time.

A diagnosis of osteoarthritis is determined by looking at the patient’s medical history, joint function, pain levels. It involves assessing things such as when pain arises, whether the pain affects daily life or other activities, and how stable the joints are. It is also common to look at risk factors. You can oftentimes get a good idea of whether or not you have osteoarthritis by looking at your symptoms. However, you still require a medical professional to confirm the diagnosis.

This is not to say that you can’t see osteoarthritis on an x-ray. You can, but this is less relevant when it comes to treatment. OARSI (OsteoArthritis Research Society Internaional) considers osteoarthritis to be a clinical diagnosis. This means that it should not be determined using x-ray images.

If you have pain in the knee, you should not need to live without a diagnosis because it is not visible in the x-ray. It is important that you be able to start your treatment early in order to achieve good results. Therefore, you should seek help if you develop knee pain.

Continue reading: what happens after an osteoarthritis diagnosis