Osteoarthritis Diagnosis Criteria

Understand the signs, causes, and effective criteria for diagnosis. Download our free PDF example for a detailed understanding.

By Telita Montales on May 15, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease marked by the deterioration of cartilage; the elastic material cushions the bones' ends within the joints. This leads to severe pain throughout the knee joint, swelling, and difficulty moving the affected knee joint around, making it the most common form of arthritis affecting millions worldwide.

The precise origins of osteoarthritis are complex and multifaceted, encompassing age-related degeneration, excessive weight, previous joint traumas, and hereditary predispositions to joint diseases. Together, these elements accelerate the erosion of joint cartilage, the protective tissue at the ends of bones, leading to osteoarthritis. This condition highlights the interplay between lifestyle, genetic makeup, and environmental factors in its development.

Printable Osteoarthritis Diagnosis Criteria

Download this Osteoarthritis Diagnosis Criteria to aid in accurate assessment and classification of osteoarthritis, guiding appropriate management strategies for optimal patient care in rheumatology practice.

Osteoarthritis risk factors

The development of osteoarthritis, particularly in the hip, is influenced by several primary risk factors. Age is a significant factor; as individuals age, the risk of serious osteoarthritis of the hip increases. Obesity stresses weight-bearing joints like the hips, accelerating cartilage wear. Previous joint injuries, especially those involving the hip, can lead to osteoarthritis later in life, as can the repetitive use of specific joints through certain activities or occupations.

Gender is another important risk factor, with women being more susceptible to developing osteoarthritis. Additionally, a family history of the condition suggests a genetic component, increasing an individual's risk. These factors collectively contribute to the risk of experiencing severe joint pain, morning stiffness, and other symptoms associated with osteoarthritis, underscoring the importance of early diagnosis and management to alleviate pain and maintain joint function.

Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis manifests through various signs and symptoms that can significantly impact daily life and mobility. Key indicators include:

Persistent joint pain

A hallmark of hip osteoarthritis, this discomfort without pain relief often worsens after activity or towards the end of the day.


Joints may feel stiff and difficult to move following periods of rest or inactivity, especially noticeable upon waking in the morning or after sitting for prolonged durations.

Swelling and tenderness

The affected joint or joints may exhibit swelling due to inflammation or excess fluid, often accompanied by tenderness when the affected joint is pressed.

Reduced flexibility

There may be a noticeable decrease in the range of motion, with individuals finding it challenging to fully flex, extend, or rotate the affected hip joints.


This refers to a crackling or grating sensation inside the hip joint during movement caused by the rough surfaces of the hip joint and bones rubbing together.

These symptoms collectively contribute to the overall burden of osteoarthritis of the hip, affecting an individual's ability to perform everyday tasks and maintain an active lifestyle.

Diagnosing osteoarthritis

Diagnosing osteoarthritis requires a comprehensive approach incorporating a detailed patient history, physical examination, and diagnostic imaging. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) provides specific guidelines that are pivotal for accurately diagnosing osteoarthritis, distinguishing it from other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These guidelines emphasize the identification of key symptoms such as persistent joint pain, stiffness, particularly in the morning or after rest, and a decrease in joint flexibility.

According to the ACR criteria (2016), the diagnosis of OA does not rely solely on imaging tests but also considers clinical findings (Runhaar et al., 2020). For instance, the pain in the knee and at least three of the six specified clinical criteria (age over 50 years, stiffness lasting less than 30 minutes, crepitus, tenderness, bony enlargement, and no palpable warmth) can confirm knee OA without further imaging. X-rays and MRI scans are invaluable for visualizing osteoarthritis-characteristic changes, including joint space narrowing, osteophytes (bone spurs), and subchondral sclerosis.

Evaluating risk factors, such as obesity, age, and history of joint injury, further supports the diagnostic process by providing context to the physical and imaging findings. These factors not only contribute to the development of OA but also help in tailoring the management strategy for the individual.

Management of OA, guided by the ACR guidelines, involves a multifaceted approach that prioritizes non-pharmacological interventions like physical therapy and lifestyle modifications to improve joint function and alleviate pain. Pharmacological treatments, including Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), are recommended for managing symptoms, especially in patients who do not respond to initial lifestyle interventions.

The ACR guidelines play a crucial role in the diagnosis and management of osteoarthritis by ensuring a standardized approach that improves the accuracy of diagnosis, aids in the differentiation from other types of arthritis, and informs evidence-based treatment plans to enhance the quality of life for individuals with OA.

Osteoarthritis Diagnosis Criteria example (sample)

Our downloadable Osteoarthritis Diagnosis Criteria template is invaluable for healthcare providers. It incorporates the ACR's clinical and radiographic criteria, facilitating a precise diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis. This template aids clinicians in systematically evaluating the necessary clinical signs, symptoms, and imaging findings, ensuring a comprehensive assessment.

By adhering to these structured criteria, healthcare professionals can enhance the accuracy of osteoarthritis diagnoses and tailor management strategies to individual patient needs, ultimately improving outcomes and patient quality of life.

Download this free Osteoarthritis Diagnosis Criteria example here 

Osteoarthritis Diagnosis Criteria example (sample)

Next steps after diagnosis

Following a confirmed diagnosis of osteoarthritis, developing a comprehensive management plan is crucial to control pain and enhance the patient's quality of life and mobility. The approach to treatment is multifaceted, incorporating both non-invasive strategies to relieve pain and, when necessary, surgical interventions to reduce pain further.

  • Lifestyle modifications: Fundamental changes in daily activities can significantly impact symptom management and disease progression. This includes engaging in low-impact exercises to strengthen muscles around the joints, weight management to reduce stress on weight-bearing joints, and adopting a healthy diet to support overall joint health.
  • Physical therapy: A tailored program can improve flexibility, strength, and joint function. Physical therapists may also introduce pain management techniques, such as heat or cold therapy, to alleviate symptoms.
  • Medications: Various medications are critical in managing pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. These can range from over-the-counter pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to more targeted treatments prescribed by a healthcare provider.
  • Surgical options: For patients experiencing severe osteoarthritis that significantly impacts their quality of life and does not respond to conservative treatment, surgical interventions may be considered. Options include arthroscopy to remove damaged cartilage, osteotomy to realign bones, or joint replacement surgery for advanced cases.

Each patient's journey with osteoarthritis is unique, necessitating a personalized treatment plan that addresses their specific symptoms, lifestyle, and goals. A multidisciplinary approach involving a team of healthcare professionals ensures the most effective management of the condition.

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ACR Diagnostic Guidelines. (2016). Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. https://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/physician-corner/education/arthritis-education-diagnostic-guidelines/

Runhaar, J., Kloppenburg, M., Boers, M., Bijlsma, J. W. J., & Bierma-Zeinstra, S. M. A. (2020). Towards developing diagnostic criteria for early knee osteoarthritis: data from the CHECK study. Rheumatology (Oxford, England), 60(5), 2448–2455. https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/keaa643

What is the difference between diagnostic criteria and classification criteria?
What is the difference between diagnostic criteria and classification criteria?

Commonly asked questions

What is the difference between diagnostic criteria and classification criteria?

Diagnostic criteria identify and diagnose a disease in individual patients, while classification criteria categorize conditions for research and study purposes.

What is the difference between arthritis and osteoarthritis?

Arthritis is a broad term for conditions causing joint pain and inflammation. Osteoarthritis is a specific type of arthritis characterized by the wear and tear of joint cartilage.

How do you confirm osteoarthritis diagnosis?

Osteoarthritis diagnosis involves a physical exam, patient history review, and imaging tests like X-rays to detect joint changes. Blood tests may exclude other conditions. These steps confirm the diagnosis, guiding the treatment plan to manage symptoms and improve life quality.

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