What is the role of imaging studies in the diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA)?

Updated: Oct 12, 2020
  • Author: Carlos J Lozada, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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Plain radiography - The imaging method of choice because radiographs are cost-effective and can be readily and quickly obtained [5, 8] ; in the load-bearing areas, radiographs can depict joint-space loss, as well as subchondral bony sclerosis and cyst formation

Computed tomography (CT) scanning - Rarely used in the diagnosis of primary osteoarthritis; however, it may be used in the diagnosis of malalignment of the patellofemoral joint or of the foot and ankle joints

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - Not necessary in most patients with osteoarthritis unless additional pathology amenable to surgical repair is suspected; unlike radiography, MRI can directly visualize articular cartilage and other joint tissues (eg, meniscus, tendon, muscle, or effusion)

Ultrasonography - No role in the routine clinical assessment of patients with osteoarthritis; however, it is being investigated as a tool for monitoring cartilage degeneration, and it can be used for guided injections of joints not easily accessed without imaging

Bone scanning - May be helpful in the early diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the hand [9] ; bone scans also can help differentiate osteoarthritis from osteomyelitis, bone metastases, and metabolic bone diseases

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