What Medical Imaging Can Reveal About Your Joints

December 10, 2019 – 4 min read

Share this post:

image of x-rays of a knee from 3 different angles

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and no statement can be truer in reference to the relationship between medical imaging and your joints. Our joints carry a lot of pressure and allow our bodies to bend and move. However, prior to medical imaging, the diagnosis and treatment of joint pain and abnormal conditions were limited to what could be described, observed, and seen externally. Now, a simple scan that allows your orthopedist to see through the skin and muscle speaks volumes about what is wrong and how they can fix the root cause of your pain.

As we have discussed in previous posts, medical imaging can take an in-depth look into your body and can reveal things that cannot be identified on a physical exam. Join us in today’s post as we discuss what medical imaging can reveal to your medical team about your joints.

At Touchstone Imaging, we provide a full menu of diagnostic imaging tests that allow your medical treatment team to get the full picture. Whether you need an x-ray, MRI, arthrogram, or bone scan, contact our location nearest you to schedule your appointment.

Capture the Big Picture of Your Joints With Medical Imaging

What X-Rays Can Reveal About Your Joints

X-rays use radiation to produce an image of the dense tissues of the body, such as bones. This produces a black and white image that allows your medical provider to observe your bones and joints clearly. X-rays are useful for detecting the cause of joint pain, discomfort, or abnormalities. Some joint conditions that an x-ray can reveal include:

  • Fractures
  • Joint space narrowing
  • Subluxation (partial or full dislocation)
  • Osteophytes (bone spurs)
  • Subchondral sclerosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cysts
  • Damage to artificial joint hardware

When an x-ray appears relatively normal, but joint pain or inflammation is present, an MRI may be ordered to take a closer look at the soft tissue —cartilage, tendons, and ligaments — that helps support the joint.

What MRI Can Reveal About Joints

Because joints are where two bones come together, if the joint pain is caused by damage to the soft tissues that support the joint, they may not be visible on a traditional x-ray. Many times, for knee, shoulder, elbow, and ankle pain, both an x-ray and an MRI will be ordered to help get a clearer picture of which structures are affected and to what degree. An MRI uses a very large magnetic field to produce images of the soft tissues of your body and clear details of all the tissues in your joints. Some of the joint conditions that an MRI can reveal include:

  • Swelling in tissues around the joint
  • Internal bleeding
  • Sprains
  • Torn ligaments
  • Damaged cartilage
  • Torn tendons
  • Arthritis
  • Fluid build-up
  • Infection – including osteomyelitis
  • Tumors
  • Differentiate between masses — fluid-filled versus tumor

What a Bone Scan Can Reveal About Your Joints

A bone scan is not usually ordered as a first line of diagnostic testing for joint concerns but can be a valuable tool when assessing the structures that joints are composed of, namely bones. Bone scans are conducted to test the density and metabolism of bones to identify problem areas. Bones scans can be useful in identifying bones specific joint problems:

  • Fractures
  • Arthritis
  • Bone cancer
  • Joint infection (osteomyelitis)
  • Bone death

What an Arthrogram Can Reveal About Your Joints

An arthrogram is a specialized medical imaging procedure that is designed to look at the soft tissues inside the joint. To do this, a special dye is injected into the joint to allow a clear image to be made with a CT or MRI. An arthrogram is not generally a first-line test but is used when an x-ray appears normal and a CT or MRI is not sufficient. An arthrogram can help detect:

  • Tears in cartilage, ligament, or tendon,
  • Degeneration in soft tissues of a joint
  • The need for arthroscopy, surgical intervention, or joint replacement.

At Touchstone Imaging Centers, our staff of radiology specialists can perform any diagnostic imaging procedure that is needed to find the root cause of your joint pain. If your medical provider orders an x-ray, CT, MRI, bone scan, or arthrogram to assess your joints, visit us online to find a location near you and schedule your appointment today!