Feature Article

The diagnosis of painful joints

Haesung Bak, Siri Kannangara AM



Musculoskeletal disorders are frequently encountered by GPs. They range from simple self-limiting local problems to life-threatening multi-organ diseases. The diagnosis and appropriate treatment of these conditions can be facilitated by adopting a systematic approach.

Key Points

  • Painful joints are frequently encountered clinical problems that require a careful, systematic approach.
  • Key features of any joint symptoms are the nature, onset, duration, course and distribution.
  • It is important to interpret clinical, radiographic and laboratory data together because pathognomonic features leading to a diagnosis seldom exist in these conditions.
  • Sometimes prompt diagnosis is required, as in cases of septic arthritis, yet at other times careful clinical follow up is more appropriate.
  • The primary goal in treating patients with painful joint conditions is preservation of joint integrity.