The Importance of Physical Examinations when Treating Arthritis

Published by Steve Hedberg on December 9, 2009 Under arthritis

One of the most effective ways of determining how rheumatoid arthritis is affecting a person is to preform examinations of the joints. This is important, as the testable symptoms, such as blood counts, can vary greatly from person to person, with some people with arthritis having normal blood counts and others having abnormal counts. However, the main concern is the way that the disease is currently affecting the patient and how it will affect them in the future, which is why joint examination is so important.

Joint Counts and Observation of the Progression of the Disease

There are many things the doctor will consider when examining the joints of a patient with rheumatoid arthritis. Though, one of the main things they are looking for is changes in the number and type of joints affected by the disease. This is often referred to as a joint count and allows the doctor to evaluate the disease over a longer period of time, checking for improvements or the progression of the disease.

The method of preforming a joint count varies, with some doctors simply having the patient indicate whether each joint feels good or bad. Often, however, the doctor will have the patient rate each joint on a scale that indicates a varying degree of pain or discomfort.

Studies seem to indicate that the simple approach may actually be more effective and is also often much easier for the patient, especially if they are elderly. Generally, between 25 and 70 different joints are checked during a joint count.

Joint counts are not only well suited for mapping the progression of the disease, but they can also help the doctor predict the probable outcome for the patient. The probable outcome refers to how the rheumatoid arthritis will likely end up affecting the senior.


Using X-Rays, which are also known as radiographs, and other kinds of imaging technology, doctors are often able to observe the changes in joints over a period of time. By looking at only one x-ray, these changes would not be noticeable, but by comparing x-rays over the length of the treatment, the doctor is often able to observe how the disease is progressing.

Also, those with rheumatoid arthritis are much more likely to develop osteoporosis, which is a disease that causes the loss of bone density. X-rays can be a powerful tool for diagnosing osteoporosis.

MRIs and Ultrasounds are also often used, as they sometimes provide an indication of inflammation, which would not be visible on an X-Ray. This is important, as inflammation usually occurs before actual joint damage, so sometimes MRIs and Ultrasounds can provide the doctor with some warning that the disease is beginning to spread to other joints.

Physical Measurements of Patient Functionality

In addition to the above techniques, doctors also often have the patient preform certain tasks and observe their abilities. For instance, observing the patient as they walk or use small objects will many times provide a very clear idea of how the disease is currently affecting them. Also, by observing the patient over several years, it will often be possible to identify how the disease is progressing.

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