What is an arthrogram?

An arthrogram (also called arthrography) is a medical imaging procedure that gives healthcare providers a detailed view of what’s happening inside your joints without a single incision. Your provider may use an arthrogram to pinpoint the cause of unexplained joint pain.

Providers may also use arthrography to precisely deliver powerful medication, such as steroids, inside a joint. Healthcare providers call this procedure therapeutic arthrography.

How does an arthrogram work?

Arthrography is a two-part procedure. First, a trained healthcare provider injects a special dye (called contrast) directly or indirectly into the affected joint. The dye absorbs into the joint, making tiny structures (and hard-to-detect problems) easier to see.

Next, a provider takes images of the joint. Your provider may use X-rays, CT, MRI or another type of medical imaging during an arthrogram. In some cases, your provider may take pictures of the joint before and after the dye injection.

What body parts does an arthrogram evaluate?

Arthrograms evaluate the body’s joint tissues. Providers often do this procedure to evaluate your shoulder (called a shoulder arthrogram) or hip (hip arthrogram).

Your provider may recommend an arthrogram to check:

Why do healthcare providers perform arthrograms?

Healthcare providers often perform arthrograms to find joint pain’s cause. Your provider may recommend an arthrogram if an initial physical exam or medical tests (such as X-rays) don’t provide enough information for a diagnosis.

Your provider may also recommend an arthrogram if you can’t easily move a joint (such as your knee or shoulder) and don’t know why. Sometimes, medical providers use arthrography to evaluate joint tissues after joint replacement surgery.

What is direct vs. indirect arthrography?

Your provider may perform a direct or indirect arthrogram. During direct arthrography, your provider uses a thin needle to inject dye right into the joint space.

In indirect arthrography, a trained medical professional injects dye into a vein near the affected joint. The dye moves through your blood vessels until it reaches your joint, where dye absorbs into joint tissues.

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