What is an arthrogram?

An arthrogram is used to diagnose a problem or relieve pain in a joint, most commonly the shoulder, hip, knee, elbow or wrist.

How is an arthrogram performed?

With live X-ray (fluoroscopy) for guidance, a doctor will numb your child’s skin around the joint, then place a small needle into the joint and inject a small amount of X-ray dye to confirm that the needle is in the proper place. Then one of two things will happen.

  • If the arthrogram is for diagnosis, the doctor will inject another dye, for MRI. The needle will be removed and a bandage applied. We will take your child to an MRI machine to scan the joint. Using the MRI images, a doctor will evaluate the joint and the tissue, ligaments and cartilage around it and attempt to determine the cause of pain, swelling or abnormal movement.
  • If the arthrogram is for pain relief, the doctor will inject pain-relief medicine.

The needle will be removed and a bandage applied. Your child will be protected by an X-ray shield during the procedure.

Will my child be awake during the procedure?

Some children remain awake, and we use a local numbing medicine at the site of the injection. In other cases, the child will be asleep; we use IV sedation or general anesthesia.

Will my child feel any pain?

Your child will feel a needle prick when we inject the local numbing medicine. After the procedure, some patients experience mild discomfort, or a fullness or tightness, in the joint for several days. If your child has pain, apply a cool compress to the area or use over-the-counter pain medication.

How long does the procedure take?

Less than one hour.

What risks are associated with this procedure?

An arthrogram is considered low-risk. However, potential complications include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • injury to surrounding structures (such as veins)
  • increased risk of joint dislocation after the procedure (because of the extra fluid in the joint)
  • nerve damage

When can I remove the bandage?

Leave the bandage in place for one day. After the bandage is removed, your child may shower or take a bath.

Are there any activity restrictions?

Your child should rest the joint for 24 hours and may not participate in strenuous activity for one week. There is an increased risk of joint dislocation for one week, so avoid activities that directly stress the joint. For instance, a child who had an arthrogram of the shoulder shouldn’t do pull-ups or play on the monkey bars, while a child who had an arthrogram of the hip should avoid hard running and jumping.

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