Diagnosis & Tests

A healthcare provider will take a medical history and do a physical exam. They may order several tests to find out what type of arthritis a person has.

Physical Examination

The healthcare provider will ask about symptoms, medical conditions, and medications. They will also check:

  • Reflexes, muscle strength, range of motion (how much a person can move their limbs),
  • How a person stands, walks, and bends
  • Joints for swelling or other signs of arthritis.

Often, this is all that is needed to diagnose osteoarthritis.

Other Tests


These show if there is bone damage, loss of cartilage, bone spurs, or debris in the joint. X-rays can help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

This test is painless. It show the soft tissues of joints better than X-rays. MRIs are often used for knee or shoulder problems, if a torn a ligament or tendon is possible.

Joint aspiration

In this test, fluid from inside the joint is drawn into a needle. The fluid is examined for bacteria, crystals, or certain types of cells that show inflammation. This test is most useful for finding infections or gout in the joint.

Blood tests

Some blood tests can help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Tests for rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis varies from person to person and can be hard to diagnose at the start, when the few symptoms are mild. A healthcare provider may order blood tests to help confirm the diagnosis.


Last Updated April 2023

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