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How to Assess Joint Pain

Joint pain can be harder to describe than other pain. Here are some ways to help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.


  • Step 1: Determine nature Determine whether the ache in the knee, elbow, shoulder, or ankle is sharp enough to be worrisome and suggestive of damage. If you can put some weight on the injury or you and your doctor can touch the sore area, you can decide whether an X-Ray might be called for.
  • Step 2: Check for swelling Check for swelling in the joint by touching raised areas. If soft and tender, the swelling could indicate excess fluid from inflammation or a blood seepage.
  • Step 3: Relate other factors Relate other previous or seemingly unrelated medical problems that might contribute to the pain. Old tears, breaks, and wounds can haunt you later.
  • TIP: Don't rule out a visit to the podiatrist, as bad shoes or weight gain could be forcing you to walk in a way that has shifted extra pressure to a joint.
  • Step 4: Describe duration Tell the physician the length of time the joint pain lasts and whether the pain is constant, or comes and goes. Bone enlargement, as opposed to soft tissue swelling, can indicate arthritis.
  • TIP: The duration of pain in the morning can help distinguish between types of arthritis. Most doctors will want to do a full physical to be sure.
  • Step 5: Conduct range of motion Conduct active and passive movement of the joint to investigate how limited the range of motion might be. In active movement, you move your joint as directed, and in passive, the doctor does it for you.
  • TIP: Listen to the joint as it is moved for crunching.
  • Step 6: Test for diseases Test the blood to investigate whether you have infections, like Lyme's disease, or systemic problems like anemia that could be affecting the joint.
  • FACT: 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain each year.

You Will Need

  • Location and characteristics of pain
  • Doctor
  • Analysis
  • Clarity
  • Honesty
  • Blood tests
  • Podiatrist (optional)

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