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    Knee Pain Overview

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    Getting a Knee Pain Diagnosis continued...

    X-rays, CT scans, and other tests

    • Depending on your particular history and exam, the doctor may suggest X-rays of the knee. X-rays show fractures (broken bones) and dislocations of bones in the knee as well as arthritis and abnormally large or small joint spaces.
    • Rarely, the doctor may order a CT scan (a 3-dimensional X-ray) of the knee to precisely define a fracture or deformity.
    • Both X-rays and CT scans are excellent for diagnosing fractures. They both are also poor, however, at evaluating soft tissue structures of the knee such as ligaments, tendons, and the menisci.


    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses large magnets to create a 3-dimensional image of the knee.
    • In contrast to CT scans, MRIs do not image bones and fractures as well.
    • Also in contrast to CT scans, MRIs are excellent for evaluating ligaments and tendons for injuries.

    Fluid removal

    • The knee and all bursae of the knee are filled with fluid.
    • If your symptoms suggest infection or crystalline arthritis, such as gout, your physician may remove fluid, with a needle, from the knee.
    • This fluid will then be analyzed to better clarify the diagnosis.
    • Crystals, which suggest crystalline arthritis, often can be seen under the microscope. Infection may also be detected under a microscope by finding bacteria and pus in the fluid.
    • Blood tests: The doctor may also elect to perform certain blood tests to evaluate for signs of infection or diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and diabetes.


    • The orthopedic surgeon may elect to perform arthroscopy if you have chronic knee pain.
    • This is a surgical procedure where the doctor will place a fiber optic telescope within the knee joint. The arthroscope is attached to a camera that relays real-time images to a video monitor.
    • By doing so, the surgeon may be able to see small particles in the knee or to look more closely at damaged menisci or cartilage.
    • The doctor may also be able to repair damage by shaving down torn cartilage or removing particles from the knee while looking at the inside of your knee on a video monitor.

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