Shoulder MRI Scan Explained

A shoulder MRI is done to provide a detailed look at the structures of the shoulder.  MRI of the shoulder is a powerful tool to non invasively diagnose abnormalities of the shoulder.

What is a shoulder MRI?

A shoulder MRI uses radio waves, a magnet and a computer to produce images of the shoulder.   There is no radiation used.  The images are detailed and allow the diagnosis of conditions which are responsible for symptoms related to the shoulder.

How long does a shoulder MRI take?

A shoulder MRI usually takes 30 minutes.  This can be longer if it is done with contrast or if additional images are done.

Reasons to get a shoulder MRI

There are many reasons to get an MRI of the shoulder.  Some of the more common ones include: injuries, pain, weakness, decreased range of motion, arthritis, fractures, suspected tears of structures, infections, tumors, and after surgery.

What can a shoulder MRI diagnose?

A shoulder MRI can diagnose tears of the rotator cuff, labrum, and tendons like the biceps.

We can diagnose arthritis because MRI of the shoulder gives us a detailed view of the joint.

Fractures can be seen which are not visible on X-rays.  We can also see bone bruises or bone edema.

We can see joint fluid (effusions).  We can see bursitis which is fluid accumulation in the bursa.  Swelling or edema of the shoulder is also well seen.

Will an MRI show shoulder inflammation?

Yes.  We can see inflamed tissue on an MRI.  We will often see edema or fluid in areas which are swollen and inflamed.

Will an MRI show arthritis in the shoulder?

Yes, we can see arthritis.  We can also see different types of arthritis like degenerative versus erosive arthritis like rheumatoid.

Normal shoulder MRI vs abnormal

A  normal MRI will show us normal appearance of the rotator cuff, labrum, tendons, bones, joints and tissues around the shoulder.

An abnormal MRI will often provide a specific diagnosis and guide appropriate treatment.  We can diagnose all types of tears, breaks in the bone, and collections of abnormal fluid.  We can see bone tumors and infections.

Risks of a shoulder MRI

There are few risks if safety procedures are followed for an MRI.  Certain implantable devices are not compatible with MRI.  Foreign metallic bodies, especially near the eyes can be dangerous.  Sedation can have some risks if this is used.  The contrast used for some shoulder MRI can cause allergic reactions.

How to prepare for a shoulder MRI

Often the facility where you will have your MRI will provide detailed information about preparation.

In general, all jewelry and accessories need to be removed.  Electronics and metal items can not be taken inside the MRI.

Some implants in your body will need to be evaluated for safety.  This can include aneurysm clips, cochlear implants and pacemakers.

Let the technologist know about any foreign bodies like bullets and metal in your body so they can be assessed for safety.  Foreign bodies near the eyes are especially dangerous.

How is a shoulder MRI performed?

Shoulder MRI is performed by a specially trained technologist.  He will place you on a moveable table and then place you inside the MRI machine.  The technologist may also place a shoulder coil which helps enhance the image in the shoulder.  An IV may be placed if your exam was ordered with contrast.  The technologist will be outside the MRI room while monitoring the exam.

Is it worth it to get a shoulder MRI?

Yes, a shoulder MRI allows a non invasive way to diagnose many different conditions of the shoulder.  There are few risks if safety procedures are followed.

Shoulder MRI: summary

A shoulder MRI is a safe, non invasive way to diagnose many different abnormalities of the shoulder.  A shoulder MRI is done without radiation.  The exam takes longer then many other radiology tests but usually takes under an hour.  The exam is interpreted by a radiologist who will send a written report to your doctor.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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