Diagnosis and treatment

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There is no specific test to confirm a diagnosis of arthritis. Your GP may be able to make a diagnosis by asking about your symptoms and examining the problem joint. There is no blood test for osteoarthritis but you may have one to rule out other conditions..

An X-ray can rule out whether you have a broken bone and show how much damage has been done to a joint but this does not indicate how much your arthritis will trouble you. X-rays may also fail to detect early damage.


There is no cure for arthritis but a range of treatments can help manage the symptoms. When discussing treatment options with you, your GP should ask you:

  • how osteoarthritis affects your life and relationships and ability to manage on a day to day basis and
  • take account of other health conditions that may affect or be aggravated by your arthritis.

This will suggest the best way to help manage your osteoarthritis and reduce its impact on your day to day life.

It is likely that one or more of the following treatments may help you.
Exercise – the right kind of exercise will not make your arthritis worse. Appropriate exercise can ease pain and increase mobility by strengthening muscles that support a joint.  An exercise programme, taking into account which joints are affected, can also improve your energy levels and general fitness. Your GP or a physiotherapist can advise you on exercise and about which day-to-day tasks could help your mobility too.

Weight management if you are overweight – if your back, knees or hips are affected, losing weight reduces the strain on these weight-bearing joints.

Pain relief –Simple analgesics may bring relief or you may need stronger painkillers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that reduce inflammation and consequently pain.  In some cases tablets may be appropriate, in other cases applying a cream or special hot and cold packs to the affected joint provides the best relief. 

Aids and equipment –if you are having difficulties walking or managing everyday tasks, your GP can refer you to an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists can suggest simple changes to the way you do things to reduce the chance of damaging your joints. They can also recommend equipment or special shoes or insoles for your shoes that could make walking or day-to-day tasks safer and easier.

Attend a self-management course – this can help you find the best way of coping with your symptoms and learn from others with the same condition. Speak to your GP to find out if there is a course you could attend or contact Arthritis Care if you would like to know about their courses. 

Further treatment - if these treatments alone or together prove unsuccessful or your joint is severely damaged, your GP may refer you to a specialist for an assessment and discussion of other options which could include surgery. 

Best treatment guidance

In February 2008, NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) issued a guideline on the management of osteoarthritis.  This guideline looks at management generally, including when it may be appropriate to consider a joint replacement. A patient version of this guideline is available on request or can be downloaded from their website. You can find out how to contact their orderline in the Further Information section.

We are grateful for the generous support of Dr Naim Dangoor CBE
and the Exilarch Foundation

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