How is Osteoarthritis Investigated

This involves a full examination of the joint involved. It is helpful if the patient wears clothes that allow the doctor to expose the joint to be examined. The doctor is looking for abnormal swelling or abnormality in the shape of the joint. A doctor will feel the surfaces of the bones and joints to detect any tenderness, warmth and fluid in the joint. They will also test your range of motion. The active range of motion is the maximum range through which people can move a joint by themselves. Limited active range of movement may indicate weakness, pain, or stiffness as well as mechanical abnormalities.  Further investigations such as imaging can help assess the site and severity of osteoarthritis.


This is a painless safe procedure that uses x-rays to image the tissues inside the body, particularly the bones. 

Collage of X-rays
An X-ray machine is essentially a camera. Instead of visible light, however, it uses X-rays to expose the film. It is good for showing the later stages of arthritis but sometimes an MRI scan of the joint is required in the early stages. If you have arthritis the x-ray will show bony spurs around the joint line as well as loss of the normal joint space and occasionally small cysts around the joint.

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MRI Scan

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. This is a painless procedure that uses a strong electromagnet and radio waves to take detailed pictures of your insides. It can show injuries to, or abnormalities of, tendons, ligaments, muscles, cartilage and bone marrow. The process involves lying flat and then passing into the scanner. This is quite an enclosed space and can be difficult for people with claustrophobia. It can also become quite noisy so you will be supplied with headphones to block some of this out.  In arthritic joints the MRI pictures will show loss of the normal cartilage over the joint surface. It may also show abnormalities in the ligaments and other soft tissues around the joint.

MRI Scan

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CT Scan

CT stands for Computerised Tomography, and is sometimes also called a CAT (Computerised Axial Tomography) scan. This uses x-rays to build up detailed images of the inside of the body. It is best at looking at the bony structures within the body. You will be asked to lie flat and the table will then advance you into a large open ring. Unlike the MRI scan this is not a claustrophobic space and is not noisy so is well tolerated.

CT Scan

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