Musculoskeletal MRI

MRI is particularly well suited for the medical evaluation of the musculoskeletal (MSK) system including the knee, shoulder, ankle, wrist and elbow. MRI scans produce detailed pictures of joints, soft tissues and bones. It is usually the best choice for evaluating the body for injuries, tumors and degenerative disorders.

When are some common uses for musculoskeletal MRI?

An MRI is usually the best choice for examining the major joints, evaluating back pain and looking at soft tissue - the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the extremeties.

MRI is helpful in diagnosing or evaluating several musculoskeletal concerns, such as:

  • Joint disorders such as degenerative arthritis
  • Tears of the menisci, ligaments and tendons, or rotator cuff and labrum
  • Fractures
  • Spinal disk abnormalities or integrity of the spinal cord after trauma
  • Sports-related injuries and work-related disorders caused by repeated strain or forceful impact
  • Infections (such as osteomyelitis)
  • Tumors (primary tumors and metastases) involving soft tissues around the joints and extremities
  • Pain, swelling or bleeding in the tissues in and around the joints and extremities
  • Congenital malformations of the extremities
  • Developmental abnormalities of the extremities
  • Congenital and idiopathic scoliosis prior to surgery.
  • Tethered spinal cord

What are the benefits?

  • MRI is an imaging technique that does not require exposure to radiation.
  • MR images of the soft-tissue structures of the body (particularly muscles, bones and joints) are often clearer and more detailed than with other imaging methods. This detail makes MRI an invaluable tool in early diagnosis and evaluation of many conditions, including tumors.
    MRI can distinguish abnormal tissues from normal tissues much more accurately than most other imaging tests
  • MRI can detect abnormalities that might be obscured by bone with other imaging methods.
  • Gadolinium contrast material used during MRI is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than the iodine-based contrast materials.
  • MRI Images allow the physician to see even very small tears and injuries to tendons, ligaments and muscles and some fractures that cannot be seen on x-rays and CT.

Are there any risks?

  • Any medical devices implanted into your body may be at risk of malfunction due to the strong magnetic field.
  • In very rare cases, in patients with poor kidney function, nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is a possible complication when contrast is used.
  • Gadolinium-based contrast has a very slight risk of causing an allergic reaction which can usually be easily treated.
  • Pregnant women should consult with their physician prior to an MRI exam. However, there have been no documented negative effects of MRI in the many years of its medical usage, and MRI is often the method of imaging chosen for pregnant women and fetuses. It should be noted that MRI contrast agents are not recommended to be used during pregnancy unless the benefits far outweigh the risks.
  • The ACR states that current information suggests breastfeeding is safe after the use of intravenous contrast. Please discuss your breastfeeding options with your medical provider.

How should I prepare?

  • Guidelines about eating and drinking before an MRI exam will vary. You will be informed of any exam preparations required during the scheduling of your exam.
  • Before your MRI exam you will be asked to change into a gown; removing undergarments that may have metal fasteners or fibers.
  • Jewelry and other metal objects can not be worn during the exam. Please try to leave them at home if possible.
  • You must notify the technologist if you have any implanted medical devices or any metal in your body. These can interfere with the exam and can cause harm during an MRI because of the strength of the magnet.
  • Inform the technologist if you are pregnant or suspect you might be pregnant


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