X-rays and scans

Some people with OA have X-rays and scans, but these only show part of the whole picture. 

Your doctor, physio or surgeon may show you X-rays and scans. It’s useful to know what thse can and cannot show...


X-rays only show your bones. You cannot see the cartilage, muscles or other tissues, and you cannot see pain. This means that an X-ray can only say what the bones look like on that day. X-rays cannot  say how you feel or how much your OA affects you. X-rays also cannot say how long the joint has looked like this or what this means for the future.

Do not be surprised if your X-ray looks a lot better or a lot worse than you feel. Some people with no pain have a lot of joint changes on X-ray. Others have a lot of pain but few X-ray changes.

It’s likely that any changes you see on X-ray took place slowly over a long time and will change only slowly in the future.


Scans (like ultrasound or MRI) are usually not needed for people with knee OA.
Do not be concerned if your doctor says that you do not need an x-ray or scan.
X-rays and scans are not needed to diagnose OA and don’t tell you what to do next.