Joint Aspiration

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on September 16, 2022
3 min read

Joint aspiration (also called arthrocentesis) is a procedure that sucks fluid from your knee, hip, shoulder, or other joints. Your doctor may do it to help with swelling and fluid related to an injury, infection, or another health condition. Joint aspiration can also help to diagnose arthritis or other joint problems. Your doctor looks at the fluid to find out what type of arthritis you have, like gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

If you have arthritis, bursitis, or tendinitis, getting rid of extra fluid that's built up inside your joints can help relieve pain and let you move more easily. Sometimes your doctor might inject medicine after the extra fluid is gone. The most common ones are anti-inflammatory corticosteroids.

If you need joint aspiration, your doctor may do other procedures, too. These include:


Usually, there’s nothing you need to do before joint aspiration. Your doctor will explain the procedure. They will ask you to sign a consent form. Be sure to ask any questions that you have.

Let your doctor know if you have any allergies to medicine, latex, or other things you might come in contact with. They should know about any medicine or supplements you take. Tell your doctor also if you have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners, including aspirin. Your doctor also should know if you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant.

You can have a joint aspiration at your doctor's office or in a hospital and go home the same day.

You'll sit on a hospital bed or table. The doctor will first clean the skin over the joint. Then you might get a shot or a spray of a pain-numbing drug at the site. Your doctor might give you medicine to make you sleepy and relaxed.

Aspiration can be done on any of these places:

Your doctor will insert the needle into your joint and draw a small amount of fluid out into the syringe. An ultrasound or X-ray can help guide the needle to smaller joints in the hands or feet, or to the hip joint.

To treat arthritis, tendinitis, or bursitis, you may need more fluid drawn. Your doctor will give you a shot of a steroid drug or other medicine to help lower swelling, relieve pressure and pain, and make it easier for you to move.

A joint aspiration takes only minutes. Stay seated for a few minutes afterward so you don't get dizzy.

Usually, you won’t have side effects from a joint aspiration. But it’s possible you may have:

  • Pain where the doctor inserts the needle
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Infection
  • An allergic reaction to the medicine injected into the joint
  • Cartilage damage inside the joint
  • Fainting

The joint fluid sample may be sent to a lab. A technician at the lab will test the sample for:

  • Number of white and red blood cells
  • Crystals, which are a sign of gout
  • Protein, sugar, and other substances
  • Infection

You should get the test results within a few days.

Your doctor will tell you how to care for the needle site. Leave the bandage on until your doctor says it's OK to take it off. Keep the area clean.

You can go back to your normal activities after the procedure. But don’t jump or lift heavy objects for a couple of days.

It’s normal for the area where the needle went in to feel sore for a few days. If it bothers you, take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Ask your doctor which one to take. Aspirin and other pain relievers can make you more likely to bleed.

Call your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms after your joint aspiration:

  • Redness or swelling of the knee
  • More pain
  • Bleeding or drainage from the aspiration site
  • Fever of 100.4 F or higher

Pain relief from a joint aspiration can last anywhere from weeks to years. If your pain returns, talk to your doctor about other treatment options.