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Arthritis - Diagnosis & Treatment

Arthritis isn't a single condition, but an umbrella term for a group of conditions that cause pain and inflammation in the joints. These conditions can affect any joint in the body, but commonly target areas like the hands, knees, hips, and spine. While there's no cure for arthritis, various treatment options can help manage symptoms and improve joint function.

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How Is Arthritis Diagnosed?

Other conditions such as tendinopathy, bone fractures, joint dislocations, and polymyalgia rheumatica may exhibit similar symptoms to arthritis. So, checking for arthritis symptoms alone can be misleading. A clinical test is the only way to accurately diagnose arthritis.


Arthritis is diagnosed in three main ways:

Physical Examination

A thorough physical exam by an orthopaedic is sometimes enough to diagnose arthritis. An orthopaedic examination involves assessing the range of motion and checking for tenderness and swelling in the problematic joint. The orthopaedic may also evaluate the patient’s overall health, lifestyle, diet, occupation, and medical history for more context.

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Imaging

Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasound scans can paint a clear-enough picture of specific joints to confirm or rule out arthritis. Such tests can reveal:

  • Soft tissue inflammation around the joint

  • Bone fractures and joint dislocations

  • Cartilage breakdown in the joint

  • Bone erosion

  • Damage or wear in the soft tissues holding the joint together


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Lab Tests

Lab tests for arthritis usually involve blood work, urinalysis, and/or arthrocentesis. Blood, urine, and synovial fluid samples are tested for any biomarkers indicating the presence of arthritis or other conditions associated with arthritis, such as kidney problems. These biomarkers may include:

  • High levels of uric acid

  • Abundance of creatinine

  • The presence of C-reactive proteins

  • Anaemia

  • Rheumatoid factor


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Arthritis Treatment

Treatment options for arthritis depend on the type of arthritis, its cause, and its severity.


Mild cases can be treated with short-term pain remedies such as heat and cold treatments and painkillers. Treatments for moderately severe arthritis may involve anti-inflammatory medications, joint immobilisation, and massage.


More aggressive treatments such as surgery, hyaluronic acid therapy, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) may be used on severe arthritis.


There’s no known cure for arthritis. All these treatments and many others focus on managing arthritis symptoms, particularly pain and mobility issues. They also stop the disease from developing further and causing permanent damage to joints, though this only works if the arthritis is detected early.

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