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Arthrogram (Joint X-Ray)

An arthrogram is a test using X-rays to obtain a series of pictures of a joint camera.gif after a contrast material (such as a dye, water, air, or a combination of these) has been injected into the joint. This allows your doctor to see the soft tissue structures of your joint, such as tendons, ligaments, muscles, cartilage, and your joint capsule. These structures are not seen on a plain X-ray without contrast material. A special type of X-ray, called fluoroscopy, is used to take pictures of the joint.

An arthrogram is used to check a joint to find out what is causing your symptoms or problem with your joint. An arthrogram may be more useful than a regular X-ray because it shows the surface of soft tissues lining the joint as well as the joint bones. A regular X-ray only shows the bones of the joint. This test can be done on your hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or jaw (temporomandibular joint).

Other tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT), give different information about a joint. They may be used with an arthrogram or when an arthrogram does not give a clear picture of the joint.

Why It Is Done

An arthrogram is used to find the cause of ongoing, unexplained joint pain, swelling, or abnormal movement of your joint. It may be done alone, before, or as part of other tests, such as MRI, CT, or arthroscopy.

An arthrogram is used to:

  • Find problems in your joint capsule, ligaments, cartilage (including tears, degeneration, or disease), and the bones in the joint. In your shoulder, it may be used to help find problems such as rotator cuff tears.
  • Find abnormal growths or fluid-filled cysts.
  • Confirm that a needle has been placed correctly in your joint before joint fluid analysis, a test in which a sample of joint fluid is removed with a thin needle.
  • Check needle placement before a painkilling injection, such as a corticosteroid injection.

How To Prepare

Tell your doctor before your arthrogram if you:

  • Are or might be pregnant.
  • Are allergic to any type of contrast material.
  • Are allergic to iodine. The dye used for an arthrogram may contain iodine.
  • Are allergic to any medicines, including anesthetics.
  • Have ever had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) from any substance, such as a bee sting or eating shellfish.
  • Have asthma.
  • Have bleeding problems or are taking blood-thinning medicines.
  • Have arthritis that is bothering you at the time of your test.
  • Have a known infection in or around your joint. The dye may make your infection worse.
  • Have diabetes or take metformin (Glucophage) for your diabetes.

You will be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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