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Inflammatory causes of MSK pain - referral guidelines

MSK Rheumatology Referral Guidelines

See chapters below:

Click on link for more information or see summary table below



Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA)


Giant Cell Arteritis (Temporal Arteritis)


Positive Antinuclear Antibodies (ANA)


Connective Tissue Diseases


Back Pain – Suspected Ankylosing Spondylitis & Spondyloarthritis























TFTs Calcium Vitamin D (would have to be very low to be cause of symptoms) Creatine Kinase ANA





Does this patient need to be referred if the diagnosis is already known?





Main reason to refer: diagnostic uncertainty                                            

Do not refer patients with predominantly chronic fatigue (there is an overlap in around 50% of symptoms) as these referrals will be declined and suggested to be redirected to GEH Chronic Fatigue Service.   


If a re-referral is being considered it is very unusual that a second opinion is substantially different to the first.
During Covid no physiotherapy led group sessions are planned and no new management including medication has been advanced in past few years.
Advise pacing, signposting to https://my.livewellwithpain.co.uk/
Duloxetine (if significant low mood too) Amitriptyline low dose (if very poor sleep pattern)
Gabapentin maximum 900mg a day (if concomitant anxiety). Stop if no improvement in 4/52
Do not prescribe opiates or Pregabalin


















Check FBC, U+E, LFT, CRP, uric acid, fasting glucose, HbA1c, X ray of the affected joints, measure blood pressure





Review at 4-6 weeks Consider prophylactic medication if a person is having two or more attacks of gout in a year




Refer to Secondary Care:                                                Immediate: if Septic Arthritis is suspected (Please note it is possible for both gout and septic arthritis to co-exist)                                                                                    Routine: if complications relating to gout eg. Nephropathy, requires intra-articular therapy and primary care are not able to provide this, diagnostic uncertainty, the serum uric acid is unresponsive to uric acid lowering therapy, if gout persists despite controlled uric acid levels
Address lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, alcohol) and provide advice.  BSR guidelines for gout: 
Patient information leaflets: www.ukgoutsociety.org 
Assess and treat underlying cardiovascular risk factors: obesity, hypertension, lipids, diabetes mellitus
Consider drug-induced gout: diuretics (inc. thiazide), B-blockers, ACE inhibitors and non-losartan angiotensin II receptor blockers, which increase serum urate.
High doses of aspirin interfere with uric acid excretion and should be avoided during an attack 
Do any of the following apply?
1) Definite diagnosis of gout following second or further attacks within one year 
2) Presence of tophi 
3) Presence of gouty erosive disease 
4) Evidence of gout interstitial renal disease
If Yes, consider Long Term Treatment with Uric Acid Lowering Therapy

Inflammatory Myositis








Assess for muscle weakness, weight loss, appetite loss, skin rash, mechanics hands TSH CK ANA LFTs (expect ALT to be raised in PM) Refer with test results attached 









Most common cause of raised CK is statin use – if ANA is negative, consider stopping statins and repeating CK after 2-3 months before referral
Dermatomyositis will always have skin changes some of which can be seen on:
but CK may be normal – if CK is normal, refer to Dermatology initially
Polymyositis will have raised CK (a CK of less than 400 is unlikely to be inflammatory in origin) with proximal weakness or tiredness and modest myalgia
If concomitant neurological symptoms refer to Neurology 

Polymyalgia  rheumatica







Bilateral shoulder / pelvic girdle pain, age >50yrs, raised ESR / CRP FBC ESR CRP TSH LFTs U&Es CK Chest X Ray Consider referral in the following circumstances:
-Incomplete, poorly sustained or non-response to corticosteroids
-Inability to reduce corticosteroids
-Contraindications to corticosteroid therapy
-The need for prolonged corticosteroid therapy (>2 years)
Refer to BSR guidance for further information: https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article/49/1/186/1789113









Raynauds and Livedo are common in teenage girls and usually physiological. Urine dip if possible Refer all suspected cases with test results attached









Ask for history of rashes (patient to keep phone pictures if they are being referred), photosensitivity, mouth ulcers, inflammatory joint pain (morning stiffness and / or morning swelling), hair loss ANA, CK, U&Es, LFTs, FBC, CRP and ESR
FH of autoimmune disease ENA will be automatically done by lab if ANA is positive
If anti double stranded DNA is positive, but Crithidea (done automatically by lab) is negative, then the anti DsDNA is likely to be a false positive
If history of thrombosis or miscarriages/ pregnancy loss then add lupus anticoagulant and cardiolipin antibodies




Virtually all will have Raynauds and either skin tightening or very marked puffiness in hands in the early stages ANA (usually anti centromere or anti-scl70 positive on ENA) U&Es LFTs LFTs CRP ESR CK Refer all suspected cases with test results attached




Many will already have very painful digital ulceration / pits at time of presentation
Ask for history of swallowing difficulties and SOB








Persistent and excessively dry mouth (not explained by medication, ageing, chronic infection, head and neck irradiation, Lymphoma, Sarcoidosis or GVHD)







Check ANA (usually anti Ro +/- La) U&Es LFTs Igs CRP ESR Refer patients with resistant symptoms, diagnostic uncertainty or suspected secondary or extraglandular manifestations to Rheumatology
Refer refractory dryness to Ophthalmology
Symptomatic treatments such as artificial tears and saliva are well tolerated and help to relieve the most obvious symptoms






Only refer if joint pain previously amenable to a joint injection with longer term benefit (>6/52) or if there is diagnostic uncertainty with inflammatory arthritis




Do NOT prescribe opioids or pregabalin
Refer for physiotherapy
Regular joint injections are not recommended as long-term therapy
Suggest topical agents and https://my.livewellwithpain.co.uk/

Psoriatic arthritis





Usually personal or family history of skin or nail psoriasis, pattern can be variable. Weight reduction advice if appropriate Refer all suspected cases using Early Inflammatory Arthritis form





Consider use of: PEST questionnaire (Psoriasis Epidemiology Screening Tool) FBC FBC U&Es LFTs CRP ESR AntiCCP
Joint pain for more than 4/52, Early morning stiffness for >30 minutes, synovitis of any joint. Also consider if inflammatory back pain, or enthesitis such as tennis/ golfer’s elbow, Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis

Inflammatory back pain / axial spondyloarthropathy





Early morning stiffness of spine >30 minutes in someone less than 45, or buttock pain worse in the morning FBC, U&Es, LFTs, CRP, ESR, HLAB27 (once only) and anti CCP if peripheral joint involvement Refer if inflammatory disease likely
Inquire for personal or FH of Ankylosing Spondylitis, iritis, inflammatory bowel disease or psoriasis If MRI spine requested (and inflammatory disease is less clear) request SI joints too as not visualised on a normal LS MRI Do NOT refer to community physiotherapy at this point as will benefit from specialist physio advice later
Ask about symptoms of peripheral joint inflammation, particularly hip (groin) or knee/ankle, or enthesitis such as tennis / golfer’s elbow, Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis If no contraindications, try at least one full dose NSAID with PPI if appropriate






Use FRAX score https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/FRAX/tool.aspx?country=1 to assess need for treatment Depending on age and comorbidity, consider causes of secondary osteoporosis and blood test including: Refer all patients with: non tolerance of oral bisphosphates requiring sub cutaneous or IV therapy or where treatment is not clear cut and Advice & Guidance not possible or not able to answer question after performing a FRAX score.



Anti TTG Igs & Electrophoresis
Nb this score is not so helpful to decide on future treatment if already on medication Testosterone (in younger men)
Ensure calcium and vitamin D replete and supplement if necessary Advise weight bearing exercise

New early inflammatory arthritis symptoms


Symptoms and signs of Early Inflammatory Arthritis Request FBC, ESR, U&Es, LFTs, RF, ANA and ant-CCP Refer using EarIy Inflammatory Arthritis form
Joint pain for > 4/52 but < 12 months X-ray hands and feet +/- other joints if involved
Early morning stiffness for >30 minutes PLUS either two or more swollen joints or tender MCPs by squeeze test

Possible GCA / temporal arteritis







Age >50 New onset of headache or jaw claudication (in the absence of current dental complaints)



Bloods and temporal artery US will be arranged by acute hospital DO NOT commence steroids prior to discussion with Rheumatology / Ophthalmology as this reduces diagnostic capacity of ultrasound 9-5pm Mon – Fri
Refer to Rheumatology SpR on bleep 2531 or 1365Out of hours refer to A&E or MDUAny visual symptoms, refer to ophthalmology first
If visual changes, please refer to OPTHALMOLOGY assessment in eye casualty instead that day- they will refer on to us if concern of GCA
NB- GCA uncommon in ethnicity other than Caucasian
Kindly follow the GCA pathway.


Rheumatology Services

The UHCW rheumatology service runs various clinics, mainly at UHCW but also at St Cross Hospital, Rugby.

There is a wide range of services, including an early arthritis clinic, an ankylosing spondylitis clinic, an urgent review clinic, and an osteoporosis service.

Here is a list of the consultants, with their interests and involvement at other hospitals:

  • Dr Tanya Potter (Pregnancy & Rheumatic Disease, Early Inflammatory Arthritis) UHCW ext 26706 Tel 02476 966706
  • Dr Kaushik Chaudhuri (Osteoporosis) UHCW ext 26708 Tel 02476 966706
  • Dr Price-Forbes (General Rheumatology and Connective Tissue Diseases) UHCW ext 26707 Te 02476 966707
  • Dr Gillian Peffers (Early Arthritis, General Rheumatology, Sjogrens)UHCW ext 26707 Tel 02476 966707
  • Dr Nicola Gullick (Psoriatic Arthritis and Research) UHCW Clinical Lead ext 26705 Tel 02476 966705
  • Dr Tim Blake (Acute Medicine, Spondyloarthropathy, Connective Tissue Diseases)UHCW ext 26705 Tel 02476 966705
  • Dr Ganesh Kasavkar (General rheumatology)UHCW ext 26705 Tel 02476 966705
    Dr Siwalik Banerjee (Connective tissue diseases/Vasculitis) UHCW/St Cross ext 26707 Tel 02476 966704/5
  • The Rheumatology Registrars carry bleeps (2531 or 1365) and are contactable 9am-5pm for advice.

For general enquiries use Consultant Connect or email:uhc-tr.rheumatologysecretaries@nhs.net

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