Most joint injuries are diagnosed using a combination of a physical exam, patient history, and imaging scans.
During an appointment at Dignity Health, your doctor will evaluate your range of motion, look for signs of injury, and speak with you to determine whether your symptoms arose from an acute injury or gradually over time.
X-rays will provide a picture of the bones involved in the joint causing you pain. Other imaging tests like MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, and ultrasounds may also be used to look at your connective tissues like tendons, muscles, and ligaments.
Depending on the affected joint and your symptoms, your doctor may also use blood tests or tests of your joint fluid to screen for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disorders, infections, and gout.
Your specific joint condition or injury will determine your treatment and prevention options. Your medical history, risk factors, and overall health will also play a role in your treatment plan.
Treatment for many joint injuries involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) therapy, coupled with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers. With rest, many overuse and acute joint injuries will heal on their own. Your doctor may also recommend the use of a supportive brace or cast while your injury heals.
If these measures aren’t bringing relief, your doctor at Dignity Health may recommend physical therapy or joint injections of a corticosteroid. And sometimes, surgery is necessary to treat joint conditions and injuries.
Before surgery, physical therapy helps prevent common joint conditions and injuries. A physical therapist can help you maintain joint strength, flexibility, and range of motion. You can also benefit from learning proper body mechanics and strategies, including the use of protective gear and padding. These are particularly useful for people who play sports.
More severe conditions that arise as a result of other conditions, like infection, cancer, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis, may require more involved treatment such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, medications such as steroids or muscle relaxers, or dietary adjustments.
When to see a doctor for joint pain
While minor and infrequent joint pain is fairly common, some joint conditions are time sensitive, meaning that they require immediate treatment to preserve joint function and prevent serious complications.
It’s never a bad idea to ask your doctor for advice on how to protect your joints and keep them healthy.
In addition, joints can be fragile, so if you experience an injury (even if mild), it is often worth asking a doctor for advice to make sure you heal as quickly as possible.
If you notice any of the following along with joint pain, seek medical care right away:
- Inability to move the joint, or severely reduced range of motion
- Swelling, deformity, or a lopsided appearance (such as a joint that looks very different on one side of the body compared to the other)
- Joint pain that gets worse over time or takes longer than three days to go away
- You have multiple episodes of joint pain within the same month
- You notice pain, swelling, or stiffness in your joints
- Your joints are red or warm to the touch
If you think you may be experiencing early symptoms of arthritis, or you are concerned about your joint pain for other reasons, your primary care doctor will be able to perform an exam and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Dignity Health doctors expertly treat many joint conditions, including with a variety of surgical procedures to repair or replace joints as needed. We provide high-quality, comprehensive treatment no matter what.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.