How is musculoskeletal pain diagnosed?

Your doctor will begin by conducting a thorough medical history. He or she will be looking for possible causes of your pain, such as workplace or sports injuries, and will also ask if the pain is ongoing or acute.

The doctor will then conduct a hands-on examination looking for the source of the pain. This may include palpating (touching) the affected area. This helps him or her locate the origin of the pain.

However, to determine the underlying cause of the pain, the doctor will often follow the exam with laboratory tests and X-rays. These may include:

  • Blood tests to confirm a diagnosis, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • X-rays to take images of the bones
  • CT scans to get an even more detailed look at the bones
  • MRIs to look at soft tissues such as muscles, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons

Based on the findings from your examination and the results of these tests, your doctor should be able to diagnose the cause and type of your pain. This will help him or her to create a treatment plan for you.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/04/2014.


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