Different Diagnostic Methods To Detect Bone And Joint Disorders

diagnosing bone diseases

There are a few specific tests and diagnostic tools that are used for diagnosing bone diseases. Blood tests, X-rays, scans, and other diagnostic tools play a vital role in the detection of acute and chronic bone diseases like osteoporosis, osteopenia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fractures. 

It is particularly women who need to be aware of the methods used for the diagnosis of bone and joint disorders. Early detection of these conditions can help people avoid serious complications such as fractures and immobilization.

Here is some detailed information about the different diagnostic methods used for the detection of bone diseases. 

Blood tests, imaging techniques, and other tools used for the diagnosing bone diseases

1. Blood tests

Blood tests are simple methods used for the diagnosis of bone diseases. For instance, blood tests to determine the calcium and vitamin D levels could help to detect the deficiency of these nutrients. A lack of adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D is linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia. [1]

Women may also be advised to perform blood tests to check the levels of alkaline phosphatase to detect the abnormalities linked to bone metabolism. Similarly, a higher amount of uric acid in the blood could indicate an increased risk of gout. [2]

Blood tests recommended for the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis include an RA test to detect the presence of rheumatoid factor, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies. [3]

2. X-rays

 X-ray examination is usually used to detect the extent of wear and tear, fractures, abnormal positions dislocations, and bone inflammation.

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During this test, a varying amount of radiation passes through the different types of tissues producing the x-ray image. Bones have the ability to absorb nearly all the radiation and appear as grey or white outlines on the images produced in this test. [4]

The organs and soft tissues such as fats and muscles allow the radiation to pass through them. They are not as visible on the image.

X-ray tests are specifically useful for the examination of the skeleton. Pregnant women should avoid x-rays, unless recommended by a physician, as the exposure to the radiation may increase the risk of developmental abnormalities in the baby. [5]

3. CT scan 

A CT (computerized tomography) scan involves the exposure of the specific tissues or organs to the x-rays from different directions. A CT scan consists of images taken in slices or thin layers to provide multidimensional and cross-sectional images of the bones and other tissues. [6]

CT scans are usually recommended for the detection of bone cancers and abnormalities affecting the vertebral column such as cervical spondylosis and lumbar spondylosis. 

4. MRI 

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) like CT scans, produces several cross-section images of the body. However, this technique uses radio waves and magnetic fields to produce the images. 

The MRI scanner works by measuring the activities of the hydrogen atoms in the body. The signals measured during this test can be converted into visual information. It can be seen as two-dimensional and three-dimensional images of the bones and joints.

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MRI scans are used for the examination of the soft tissues such as muscles, cartilage, and ligaments as these tissues have higher water content.

An MRI can also help in the diagnosis of the shoulder, knee, or spine problems and reveal the signs of inflammation and wear and tear in the bones. [7]

5. Bone densitometry

Bone densitometry test is recommended for the measurement of bone mineral density. The results of this test help to assess how resistant the bones could be to fractures. The bone density is usually measured using special x-ray techniques such as dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. [8]

Bone density tests are based on the measurement of how easily the x-rays can pass through the bones. In women with brittle and porous bone, more x-rays can pass through them revealing a low bone mineral density. 

The results of this test are expressed in terms of a T-score that compares the bone density of the patient with the average bone density of young and healthy adults. [9] 

Sometimes, computed tomography or ultrasound examination may be used to measure the bone mineral density of the heels. 

Regular bone densitometry is recommended for menopausal and post-menopausal women who are at a risk of bone loss. This can help in the early diagnosis of the reduced bone mineral density due to osteoporosis and to help prevent fractures caused due to the weakness of the bones.  

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6. Bone scintigraphy

Bone scintigraphy is a bone scan that provides images of the metabolism in the bones. For this test, a weak radioactive substance, called a tracer, is injected into a vein.

The tracer substance tends to accumulate in the bones thus producing images of the different bone structures. This test can help in the diagnosis of cancer metastases and inflamed tissues in the bones.

The metabolism in the bones may change when it is affected due to the tumor inflammatory changes. A bone scan can help to identify these changes and help the diagnosis of bone cancers and diseases caused due to inflammation. 

7. Bone biopsy

A biopsy of the bone or bone marrow can help in the diagnosis of blood cancers such as acute and chronic leukemias. During these tests, a small sample of tissue is removed from the bone or bone marrow using a thin needle. The sample is tested for any abnormal changes caused due to the bone or bone marrow diseases. [10]

Bone biopsies can be used to investigate osteoporosis or to examine a tumor.


Women are advised to have regular bone mineral density tests, especially after the age of 45. They should also receive blood tests to detect any deficiency of vitamins and minerals essential for optimum bone health. 

There are several other tests that can help in the diagnosis of diseases affecting the bones and joints. Early detection of bone and joint disorders can help people avoid serious complications like fractures and help people stay healthier. 

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  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353653
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279413/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441999/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537046/
  5. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/bones-joints-and-muscles/bone-disorders/diagnosis/lab.html
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11105709/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4632105/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21440697/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4917635/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12926408/

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