Imaging tests can allow your doctor to see inside your hip joint – painlessly. The most common imaging tests to diagnose hip arthritis and other problems are:

X-ray (radiography). A standard X-ray is a simple test in which an X-ray beam (a form of electromagnetic radiation) is passed through the hip to create a two-dimensional picture of the bones that form the joint. Your doctor can use X-rays to view:

• joint alignment. Problems with alignment can cause or worsen changes that result from arthritis in the hip.
• joint space. Narrowing of the space between the two bones, which are normally covered by cartilage, can be a sign of arthritis and its severity.
• bone spurs. Bony overgrowths at the joint are a sign of osteoarthritis.
• bone structure. Problems of the bone, including fractures, osteonecrosis and Paget's disease of the bone can often be seen on X-ray.

Learn more about x-rays from the Radiological Society of North America.

Computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan. Also called a computed tomography (or CT) scan, this noninvasive test combines X-ray equipment with sophisticated computers to produce multiple images of the hip. The computer can combine the individual images to create a three-dimensional view of the hip. CT scan shows soft tissues such as ligaments and muscles more clearly than traditional X-rays do, so it is more useful for diagnosing certain hip problems.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This procedure uses a strong magnet linked to a computer to create a picture of the hip joint in black and white and shades of gray. Because an MRI shows the soft tissues as well as the bones, it is particularly useful for diagnosing injuries to the cartilage, tendons and ligaments as well as areas of swelling.

Learn how new MRI technology may enable early osteoarthritis diagnosis.