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What is Arthrography?

Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Arthrography is a type of imaging procedure typically used to examine the interior structure of a joint, such as the knee or wrist. A contrast agent of some sort is generally injected into the joint before imaging, which helps the radiographer produce clear images of the interior structure of the joint so that doctors can fully evaluate the extent of any damage to the joint. Most people undergo arthrography when a joint injury is suspected. The procedure usually takes place on an outpatient basis. It normally involves the use of X-ray imaging, though magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used.

Most people undergo arthrography in order to determine the cause of stiffness, pain, or discomfort in a joint. The procedure can allow physicians to examine the interior structure of a joint, even when the joint is in motion. This type of image may be used on any of the joints of the body.

Radiologists usually begin this procedure by injecting a contrast agent into the joint. Iodine is a common choice. The body normally absorbs the contrast fluid after the procedure, usually without causing severe side effects or harm. The contrast fluid simply allows the structures of the joint to appear more clearly on X-ray or MRI images, so that physicians can better evaluate joint function.

It's usually not necessary to make any special preparations before having this kind of imaging test, though patients undergoing MRI are generally asked to remove any metal accessories before entering the exam room. Most types of metal implants are considered MRI-safe, but patients are usually advised to speak with their physicians about any implants, plates, screws, pins, or staples that they might have inside their bodies. Pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions may not be considered good candidates for arthrography.

An outpatient arthrography procedure typically takes about half an hour to complete if done using X-rays, though a procedure done using MRI may take more than twice as long. The joint will usually be anesthetized before the procedure begins. A surgeon will then usually remove the fluid from the joint using a syringe. This fluid is typically replaced with contrast fluid. Patients are typically asked to flex the joint briefly in order to help spread the contrast fluid for a clearer, more detailed image.

X-rays are generally taken in an X-ray lab, while MRIs are usually performed in an MRI lab. Bracing the joint during imaging can help produce a more helpful image. Most patients will be asked to move through several positions while images are made. The number and type of positions will depend on the patient's individual needs.

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