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What is an Arthrogram?


A regular X-ray is an important tool in medicine that can give your doctor a great deal of information in some cases. If you have potential damage or disease in or around a joint, however, an arthrogram may yield more information. In this blog, the board-certified radiologists at Neighborhood Radiology Services explain exactly what this test is and when you might need one:

What is an arthrogram?

An arthrogram – which is also sometimes called an arthrography –  is a type of imaging that helps your doctor see the inside of a damaged joint.

A special contrast dye is injected into your joint using imaging such as computed tomography (CT) or a fluoroscopy (a video X-ray) to help your doctor precisely guide the needle. The arthrogram then allows him or her to see a clear image of soft tissues in the joint, such as ligaments and cartilage. This makes it easier to make an accurate diagnosis to determine if any damage has occurred in your joint, and if so, exactly what type and how severe it is.

Why might one of these tests be done?

This test may be performed if you have any of the following issues in your joints, including your ankle, elbow, hip, knee, shoulder, or wrist:

  • Unexplained pain
  • Stiffness and trouble moving your joint
  • Abnormal movement of your joint
  • Swelling

Is an arthrogram better than a normal X-ray?

This test allows your doctor to get a more complete picture of what’s wrong with your joint than a regular X-ray can provide. A regular X-ray shows only the bones of the joint, while an arthrogram shows not only the bones, but also the soft tissues that line the joint.

How do you prepare for this test?

It usually doesn’t require any special preparation. Tell your doctor about any medications or supplements you take, as well as any allergies you have. You should also talk about your general health, including whether you are or could be pregnant.

Wearing loose clothing during the test can help make you more comfortable (unless a hospital-type gown is provided). If your test is being performed in conjunction with an MRI or another test that’s conducted in a confined space, let your doctor know if you get claustrophobic. You may be able to take some medicine to help you relax.

What happens during an arthrogram?

You’ll need to remove your jewelry and take off any clothing around the joint. The test will be performed while you’re lying on an exam room table and will usually include the following steps:

  • Your doctor takes X-rays before administering the dye so they can be compared with your arthrogram results. He or she will cover your body surrounding the joint and clean your skin. The skin around your joint will be numbed with medication, and if you have fluid around your joint, it will be removed using a needle.
  • Your doctor will then inject contrast dye around your joint, using another type of scan, such as a fluoroscopy, to make sure the needle is properly positioned. You may be asked to move your joint around so the dye spreads out, and then images can be taken of your joint in various positions by using an MRI or other scan.
  • Depending on the type of scans used, your test can take anywhere from about 30 minutes to 2 hours.

If you have joint pain and need an arthrogram or other scan, contact us today for a consultation with Neighborhood Radiology Services. We have several convenient locations in the Greater New York Metropolitan area, including in Manhattan, Queens, and Nassau County. Fill out the form on this page to request an appointment or call 800-220-2220 to learn more.

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