Arthrography is a diagnostic imaging technique used to screen for abnormalities of the joints. An arthrogram differs from a standard X-ray in that it captures detailed images of the internal structure of the joints, including soft tissues.

What is an arthrogram?

An arthrogram is an imaging procedure involving injecting a contrast material (typically a dye) into the bloodstream or directly into the joint so your doctor can visualize the structure. While fluoroscopy X-ray imaging is the most commonly used technology, in some instances, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) might be used.

Arthrography can be used to examine the following joints:

  • Ankles
  • Elbows
  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Shoulders
  • Wrists

Why would I need an arthrogram?

If you are experiencing chronic joint pain, your doctor might order an arthrogram if other imaging tests do not identify a cause. Other issues that might lead your clinician to recommend an arthrogram include:

  • Joint function loss
  • Joint function limitations
  • Multiple joint dislocations
  • Cartilage, tendon, or ligament tears
  • Prosthetic joint integrity

What does an arthrogram do?

Arthrograms are minimally invasive procedures that provide a clearer, more comprehensive view of your joints than other imaging tests. Your provider might recommend either direct or indirect arthrography.

Direct arthrography: This technique involves the injection of contrast material into the joint space. This type of arthrography is the most commonly performed.  

Indirect arthrography: This type of arthrography is the injection of contrast material into the bloodstream near the affected joint. Images are taken once the joint absorbs the dye.

Before the arthrogram, you will have standard imaging performed so your doctor can compare the two images. Your doctor will inject the contrast material into your joint (for direct arthrography) or vein (for indirect arthrography). If you have direct arthrography, you might be asked to move your joint to facilitate the flow of the contrast dye.

After the joint has been saturated with the contrast material, several images will be captured as you hold the joint at different angles. If you are unable to move the joint due to pain or some other concern, your physician will help you position your joint as comfortably as possible.

After the procedure, additional imaging might be required.

How do I prepare for an arthrogram?

Your physician will provide you with detailed instructions before the procedure. You will be asked to discuss the following before treatment:

  • Whether you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant
  • If you have any allergies
  • Any medications or supplements you are taking
  • If you have any conditions that cause uncontrolled bleeding

How long does an arthrogram take?

The length of time for your arthrogram will depend upon the type of imaging used. An MRI arthrogram generally takes about one hour. Fluoroscopy (X-ray) will take roughly 30 minutes.

Does an arthrogram have any risks?

There are very few risks associated with arthrography. However, using contrast materials can cause complications for patients with iodine allergies. Additionally, there might be a risk of the following:

  • Infection at the injection site
  • Swelling of the joint (after a direct arthrogram)
  • Damage to the nerve or vessel near the joint

It is also important to note that certain conditions cannot be reliably identified using arthrography. These include minor rotator cuff tears and some internal cartilage defects.

To schedule an arthrogram appointment, please contact the team at Valley Radiology today.