Joint Problems

Diagnosis & Tests

Visit the Arthritis topic for more information on osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

History and Examination

Your healthcare provider will take a detailed history of your symptoms and general condition, and will ask you about:

  • when the symptoms began
  • how severe they are (are they causing pain and/or disability?)
  • whether you have family members with arthritis or related diseases
  • what medications you are taking – both prescription and non-prescription
  • your exercise and lifestyle habits
  • other symptoms such as weight or appetite loss, sleep problems, rashes, fever, muscle weakness, general sick feeling

Once the history is taken, your healthcare provider will do a physical examination. This will include:

  • a search for the source of the pain – whether it is within or outside a joint or referred from another location in your body (e.g., hip pain that comes from your back)
  • an evaluation of the affected area – particularly looking for signs of inflammation (redness, swelling, tenderness or pain, warmth, persistent stiffness, enlargement, or deformity)
  • assessment of which joints, and how many, are involved
  • a range of motion test
  • a check of joint stability
  • a test of your ability to walk a short distance and get in and out of a chair
  • evaluation of certain diagnostic movements, noting how painful, impaired, or stiff the motion is and whether there is pain mainly when the examiner  moves your joint (more likely in arthritis) or more likely if you move it yourself (probably a muscle or soft tissue disorder)

Your healthcare provider may also want to order additional tests.

Lab Tests

These may include a blood test, urine test, and testing of the fluid extracted from the affected joint. Blood tests such as the ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate), rheumatoid factor test, and antinuclear antibodies test (ANA) can point to certain joint diseases.

Imaging Tests

These tests will allow your healthcare provider to view joint damage and include x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and arthroscopy.


Last Updated April 2017