Arthrography is the radiographic examination of a joint after the injection of a dye-like contrast material and/or air to outline the soft tissue and joint structures on the images.
Arthrography is done most commonly to identify abnormalities associated with the shoulder, wrist, hip, knee and ankle. Patients who undergo this procedure usually have complained of persistent, unexplained joint pain or discomfort. Arthrographic images may allow identification of problems with a joint’s function or indicate a need for a joint replacement.
Joint fluid is removed and replaced with injected contrast material or air — sometimes both. A series of radiographs, sometimes called “arthrograms,” are obtained before the joint tissue absorbs the contrast material. Occasionally, the examiner will take additional x-rays as he or she pushes and pulls on your joint.
To many patients, the thought of having needles plunged into their joints seems particularly gruesome. But just as major dental work is done only after the administration of an anesthetic to numb the involved area, your joint area will also be numbed so you do not feel anything related to the arthrographic procedure. Initially, you will experience a slight pinprick and momentary burning as the anesthesia is injected into the joint area. Soon, however, you will note the numbing sensation seemingly surround the affected joint. You may feel a fullness as the joint is filled.
Most patients undergo arthrography because it has been recommended by their orthopedic surgeon or primary care physician, also called the referring physician. The images are interpreted by a radiologist, though not necessarily the one who was present during your examination. The interpretation is subsequently forwarded to your orthopedist or primary care physician. Depending on the interpretation, you and your physician will determine the next course of action, such as treatment for an abnormality, if necessary.