Images can show precise type and location of joint damage
Your doctor may order an arthrogram when a standard X-ray is unable to show the source of pain or lack of movement in a certain joint, such as the hip, knee, shoulder or wrist. Arthrography can also help determine where exactly to position a needle for corticosteroid injection or joint fluid analysis. A radiologist, a doctor who is skilled in medical imaging, performs the procedure.
How arthrography is done and what the results show
Arthrography involves injection of contrast dye, water or air, or some combination of these, into the affected joint. This allows the radiologist to get a clear view using fluoroscopy, an X-ray “movie” that produces images of the joint on a computer screen.
The radiologist will use a numbing agent to numb the area around the joint so you will not feel any pain when the needle injects the contrast material. Once it has been injected, you may be asked to move around a bit. This will help distribute the contrast material so the radiologist has better visibility of the area during the scan. Additional imaging, such as MRI and CT scan, may also be used to complement fluoroscopy if the X-ray image doesn’t provide enough information.
The radiologist will then review the results and discuss them with your doctor. Arthrography can show:
- Tears to the tendons and ligaments
- Worn cartilage around the joint
- Enlarged or ruptured joint capsule
- Abnormal growth, such as a tumor
Your doctor will thoroughly explain the results to you and explore your options for treatment, which may include medication, physical therapy and/or surgery.