What to Expect During an Arthrography

This examination is usually done on an outpatient basis.

You are positioned on the examination table and X-rays are taken of the joint to be compared later with the arthrograms.

Next, the skin around the joint is cleansed with antiseptic and a local anesthetic is injected into the area. A needle with an aspiration syringe is then inserted into the joint space. The radiology assistant will use the syringe to drain the joint fluid, which may be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Then the contrast material, and sometimes air, are injected into the joint space and the needle is removed to prevent the contrast material and/or air from escaping. You will be asked to move the affected joint to distribute the contrast material throughout the space. Images are then obtained with the joint in various positions.

Time Consideration

The examination is usually completed within 30 minutes.

Other Factors

Your joint area will be numbed so you do not feel anything related to the arthrographic procedure. Initially, you may experience a slight pinprick and momentary burning as the anesthesia is injected into the joint area. You may feel a fullness as the joint is filled and hear gurgling when the joint is moved.

After the examination, you may experience swelling and discomfort or hear a crackling noise in the joint if air was injected during the exam. You may apply ice to the joint to reduce swelling if it is bothersome. A mild over-the-counter analgesic can be taken for pain. These symptoms usually disappear after 48 hours. Contact your doctor if they persist after two days.

Vigorous exercise is not recommended for 12 hours after the exam.

Limitations of Conventional Arthrography

Partial tears of the rotator cuff may not be detected.

Some joint injuries cannot be detected during conventional arthrography including tears of the cartilage which can be found inside and along the edges of some joints, bruising of neighboring bones and injuries to ligaments outside the joint. MRI may be obtained after arthrography to better evaluate these types of injuries.