Just Diagnosed With Arthritis: The First Doctor's Visit for Hip or Knee Pain

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by patient expert Matthew Thompson.

If you have had hip pain or knee pain for a long period of time, you probably have tried a few over-the-counter medications and may have turned to friends and family for advice. Maybe it got better for a while, but eventually returned. At some point, you decide that you have had enough and make the decision to see a doctor about it.

To truly get the most out of your upcoming appointment, it helps to be prepared. Here is some advice to help make your first doctor's visit for hip or knee pain as productive as possible:

The First Doctor's Visit

For the first doctor's visit, we'll assume you are seeing your family doctor for an initial evaluation.

The primary goal of this appointment is to obtain the correct diagnosis.

In order to select the appropriate treatment plan, it is important to have a thorough visit with your doctor, including appropriate tests, to confirm the correct diagnosis. And don't worry, contrary to the busy-doctor stereotype, doctors really are interested in spending the necessary time with you to get to the bottom of the problem. But remember that you can help them by being prepared.

Preparing For Your Doctor's Visit

To prepare for your doctor's visit, it is helpful to think about your answers to the following common questions you may be asked for hip or knee pain. Having clear and concise answers ready will save time, and will allow more time to discuss the diagnosis and treatment plan. Here are some common questions to be prepared for:

  • Where is the pain?
    • If you have hip pain, think about whether it is mainly in the groin (often caused by arthritis) or in another spot.
    • If it is hard for you to pinpoint the pain or if the pain radiates down your leg, let your doctor know. Sometimes a back injury can be the source of hip or knee pain.
  • Was there an injury?
    • It is important to note if there was a recent injury, and whether or not you were seen in the emergency room or received any treatment.
  • How long have you had the pain?
    • It is helpful to know when it first started (months or years ago), if it has improved, and whether it comes and goes or has been continuous.
  • When do you get the pain?
    • It is helpful to know if the pain is worse with activity or specific movements and positions.
  • How has the pain affected your life and activity level?
    • It is helpful to be specific here. For example, "I used to walk 2 miles without pain. Now I can only walk 2-3 blocks before stopping due to knee pain."
  • What treatments have you had?
    • Make sure to be specific here too. Have you seen another doctor or other health care provider for this? Have you had formal physical therapy? If you have taken a pain medication, how much did you take and for how long?
  • Medical history:
    • You usually will fill out a form for this before the visit. There are many factors here that can affect your diagnosis and treatment. For example, if you have a history of ulcers, you may not be able to take standard anti-inflammatory medications.

This should help you develop a clear and concise history of your ailment, which will help greatly with the diagnosis and allow more time for the examination, any x-rays or tests, and further discussion. If the diagnosis is osteoarthritis, then we will discuss that further in future columns. In complicated situations where the diagnosis is unclear, you may be referred to a specialist or sent for further tests.

This column deals primarily with osteoarthritis, which is one of the most common causes of hip and knee pain. The next few columns will discuss the steps in the treatment of osteoarthritis, with a specific focus on what to expect at the following doctor's visits.