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.


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