My X-Ray shows that I have arthritis. What does this mean?


Interpreting an X-Ray can be a difficult thing for someone with no medical experience - even for many with medical training. Often, there is the use of fear-provoking phrases, such as osteophyte, facet degeneration, or joint space narrowing. While these findings may be relevant to your current pain, research suggests that many of these findings are normal in people who don’t have any pain.

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Take the lower back, for example. If you look at people in their 40s with no back pain, 18% of them will have X-ray results showing facet degeneration. Knee research has shown that 77% of people with pain have osteophytes on imaging, but 72% of people without pain have the same finding. Similar findings have been demonstrated in the shoulder, hip, neck, mid back and ankle. In many cases, these findings may be “grey hairs on the inside” and not at all a dangerous or negative thing.


What can we do about this arthritis?


It’s a good idea to talk to a health professional, like a physiotherapist, about whether or not your pain is associated with the X-Ray findings. The health professional may also discuss the type of arthritis you have, which will determine our management strategy. In a number of joints, it has been shown that a variety of exercise programs can be helpful in reducing the pain and disability associated with certain types of arthritis.


We want to keep the joint moving and build your capacity to keeping doing the things you enjoy. It can be difficult to start moving when you are in pain and have a recent diagnosis of arthritis - our natural tendency is often to reduce movement around the area. A health professional may be able to help you start a progressive exercise program to start managing these symptoms.


Remain hopeful! While we may not be able to change the arthritis, people can almost always reduce the symptoms, and get back to their favourite activities. 

Nathan Hers, Physiotherapist

By Nathan Hers, Physiotherapist