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A doctor often discovers important information about the possible causes of symptoms through a discussion about your medical history. During this discussion, the doctor may ask questions such as the following:
During the physical exam, the doctor will look at, feel, and move each joint, evaluating it:
The doctor will also look for any signs of unequal leg lengths, muscle weakness, or muscle wasting.
During a physical exam, the doctor also will do an evaluation of the lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys.
A medical history and physical exam are a normal and important part of the evaluation of joint pain and stiffness.
The key to diagnosing osteoarthritis is determining the pattern of joints that are affected. For example, if you have symptoms in the set of knuckle joints between the wrists and finger joints (metacarpal-phalangeal joints), the balls of the feet (metatarsal-phalangeal joints), wrists, ankles, or elbows, you probably have a different, inflammatory form of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis.
A normal joint is not painful, tender, or swollen, has a full range of motion, and appears structurally normal.
In an abnormal joint, an exam may detect pain or swelling along with a bony hardness. Other abnormal findings that suggest osteoarthritis include:
Distinguishing between osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis may be difficult based on individual joint symptoms. But a pattern of symptoms may point to the type of arthritis.
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