What is an Arthrogram?
Feb 22, 2016
An arthrogram uses imaging equipment to evaluate a joint like the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee or ankle. It is a two-part procedure consisting of a contrast injection into the joint, followed by an MRI or CT scan of the joint.
An arthrogram is ordered to:
- Find tears, degeneration or disease in the cartilage, ligament or tendon
- Detect growths or synovial cysts in the joint
- Diagnose unexplained joint pain
- Determine the need for treatment, including arthroscopy, surgery or joint replacement
First part - injection
The first part of an arthrogram uses fluoroscopy – a specialized type of x-ray equipment that images the area in real time, and displays it on a video monitor. A small needle will be placed in the joint and contrast material (i.e. x-ray dye) will be injected into the joint space. Several x-ray images will be taken using the fluoroscopy machine. Pain medications like anesthetic and/or steroids may also be injected, depending on what was ordered by the healthcare provider. The injection portion typically takes about 30 minutes.
Second part - MRI
In most cases, an MRI (or occasionally a CT scan) of the joint will be performed after the injection portion. CT can be used to better evaluate the intra-articular structures in patients who cannot have an MRI for safety reasons. MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to make detailed pictures; please review our MRI metal safety checklist. The MRI will take another 30-45 minutes.
Can’t I just have an MRI? Why do I need to have an injection first?
- An MRI arthrogram can be used to further evaluate an abnormality identified on a routine MRI.
- MRI arthrogram can better define some issues following surgery than a routine MRI.
- Distention of the joint from the injected contrast material can better highlight some small structures that are close together on a routine MRI.
- Determining if an injury extends outside the joint can be easier with MRI arthrogram in some cases.
Image from a shoulder MRI arthrogram.
Image from a shoulder MRI.