First Time User? Enroll now.
Get Care Now
COVID-19: Vaccine information, visitor restrictions, testing, treatment, and additional resources
Home > Health Library > Arthrogram (Joint X-Ray)
An arthrogram is a test using X-rays to obtain a series of pictures of a joint 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.
An arthrogram is used to find the cause of symptoms in your joint. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, or abnormal movement of your joint. It may also be done to see if you can be helped with surgery, such as arthroscopy.
An arthrogram can:
Tell your doctor before your test if you:
The test usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.
You will feel a prick and sting when the anesthetic is given. You may feel tingling, pressure, pain, or fullness in your joint as the dye is put in.
The X-ray table may feel hard and the room may be cool.
You may have some mild pain, tenderness, and swelling in your joint after the test. Ice packs and nonprescription pain relievers, used as the package directs, may help you feel more comfortable. You may also hear a grating, clicking, or cracking sound when you move your joint. This is normal and goes away in about 24 hours. If you have ongoing pain, tenderness, or swelling of the joint, tell your doctor.
You can have a few problems from an arthrogram, such as:
There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.
The radiologist may discuss the initial results with you after he or she reviews all the pictures. A detailed report will be available to your doctor in a few days.
The joint capsule, the sac containing joint fluid, is normal. The cartilage and other structures of the joint are normal.
The cartilage is worn down (degeneration) or there is a tear in the cartilage cushion of the joint.
There is a tear in the ligaments or tendons of the joint. The tear may be partial or complete. If a rotator cuff tear in the shoulder is present, the dye leaks from the tear.
The joint capsule is enlarged or has ruptured. A joint cyst is present.
Abnormal material is present in the joint. This could be a tumor, extra growth of joint tissues, or pieces of bone or cartilage.
After your doctor has seen the condition of your joint area, he or she may recommend further treatment with medicine, physical therapy, or surgery.
Current as of:
June 27, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineHoward Schaff MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Current as of: June 27, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Howard Schaff MD - Diagnostic Radiology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.