What Is an Arthrogram?

An arthrogram is a specialized imaging procedure for the joints, utilized as an alternative to standard X-rays, when the latter is unable to produce information adequate for diagnosis. A radiosensitive dye is injected into the joint by means of a needle, and then photographed using X-rays, fluoroscopy, computerized tomography (CT) scanning, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The dye’s addition increases the detail captured by the imaging technology, especially of soft tissues like ligaments. Arthrograms are most often used with major joints, such as the knee, shoulder, hip, elbow, wrist, or ankle.

The pain and loss of mobility that comes with a joint condition can be debilitating. If you have concerns about your joint health, see the orthopedic specialists at Baptist Health.

When Is an Arthrogram Needed?

There are several reasons why you might need an arthrogram:

  • Chronic or persistent pain
  • Stiffness and/or loss of joint motion
  • A need to locate soft-tissue tears undetected by standard X-rays
  • Identification of loose bodies within the joint
  • Examination of prosthetic joints
  • Assessments of joint damage following multiple dislocations.

How Do I Prepare for an Arthrogram?

Arthrograms require some preparation beforehand. Here are some typical considerations:

  • Your physician will provide you with guidance on getting ready for the procedure. Be sure to follow his or her instructions.
  • You are not limited in what you eat or drink beforehand.
  • Tell your physician about any drugs or medications that you’re taking, especially if they have anticoagulant properties. He or she may ask you to go off them for a period of time prior to the procedure.
  • Be sure to communicate any allergies you have, especially to latex, iodine, shellfish, or penicillin and related drugs.
  • Do your best to relax beforehand.
  • Arrange to have someone drive you home after discharge from the medical facility.

What Should I Expect During an Arthrogram Procedure?

Arthrograms are performed in both inpatient and outpatient settings. The following steps apply:

  • You’ll prepare for the procedure by removing your street clothes and any jewelry that you’re wearing. A hospital gown will be provided for you to change into.
  • You will be positioned on the exam table in the operating area. Your physician may order an X-ray of the joint prior to beginning.
  • The injection area will be cleaned and sterilized. You will receive two shots: the first with a local anesthetic to numb the joint and the second with a contrast dye.
  • On the injection’s completion, you will be asked to rotate and exercise the joint, to ensure a thorough distribution of the radiosensitive dye.
  • X-ray pictures will be taken of the joint in several different positions. Less frequently, the visual images will be recorded by computerized tomography or MRI. Your medical team will use these photos to ascertain the cause of the joint pain or dysfunction that you have been experiencing.

What Are the Risks of an Arthrogram?

Like any medical procedure, there are risks associated with an arthrogram. Most are relatively minor. Possible complications include:

  • Soreness
  • Infections
  • Bleeding
  • Tissue damage from X-ray exposure
  • Allergic reactions to the dye.

What Happens After an Arthrogram?

Expect the following in the aftermath of an arthrogram procedure:

  • Your physician will give you instructions on recuperation procedures, including joint rest and movement, medications, and limitations on activity.
  • You may develop swelling. Apply ice to the joint if this happens. Contact your physician if the conditions persists.
  • Limit yourself to the pain medications recommended by your physician.
  • Your joint may require bandages or wrappings, which will need to be changed and reapplied regularly. This is most common with knee procedures.
  • Inform your physician if, following the procedure, you experience fever, redness, bleeding, site drainage, or significant pain. Cracking or clicking sounds may occur during joint movement, but these should be temporary.
  • Keep in touch with your physician, so you and he or she can plan any necessary follow-up treatments or procedures.

Learn More About Arthrograms from Baptist Health

Concerned about joint health? For more information on arthrograms and related procedures at contact your Baptist Health primary care physician.