How is my osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose osteoarthritis (OA) based on asking questions about your symptoms and examining your joints. While OA typically occurs in people aged 50 and older, it can sometimes start at a younger age if there has been a prior injury or surgery. The most commonly affected joints are the knees, hands, and hips although most any joint (and the spine) can be affected. Which joints does osteoarthritis affect?  

Your doctor will diagnose OA by reviewing your medical history and current symptoms with you, including the level of discomfort or pain you are experiencing, especially when engaging in certain types of activities. This conversation will be followed by a thorough examination of your joints to assess tenderness, ease and range of motion, presence of swelling, joint sounds such as cracking and grating, joint stability, and whether you are “knock-kneed” or “bow-legged”.

Imaging studies, such as x-ray, are not needed to make a diagnosis of OA. Do not be surprised if your doctor does not order or rely on imaging tests to make a diagnosis of your OA. If there are any concerns that there may be a different cause of your symptoms, your doctor may, in certain circumstances, decide to order imaging tests.