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Arthrography is a test used to evaluate conditions within joints using a specialized x-ray called a fluoroscope, which takes rapid sequential images and transmits them to a computer monitor. Like a movie camera, arthrography creates images in real time so your doctor can view your joint’s mechanics as you move. This allows your doctor to see if the joint is suffering from disease or mechanical dysfunction such as bone spurs, worn cartilage, torn joint capsules, etc. The images are precise enough to capture small details, such as tiny tears, scar tissue and cysts.

After the application of a local anesthetic, your doctor may remove excess fluid from the area for further study and/or to reduce inflammation. A contrast medium, usually an iodine solution, is often injected into the joint to highlight and separate the structures throughout and around the joint so abnormalities can be observed more easily.

Most commonly, arthrography is performed to pinpoint the cause of unexplained joint pain. Being able to study the internal mechanics of joints and possible injury to the associated soft tissues – muscles, tendons, ligaments, capsules and cartilage – can often lead to successful repair. Even small tears or cysts can cause ongoing pain, and their repair can provide substantial, sometimes complete, relief. In situations where the cartilage has worn away from overuse, certain steroid and/or hyaluronic acid injections may be used to cushion the joint and delay joint replacement. In some cases, damage may prove substantial enough that joint replacement surgery is recommended.