What should I expect during a shoulder MRI scan?

May 6, 2024 – 10 min read

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When your healthcare provider recommends you get a shoulder MRI, it means they want to take a closer look at your shoulder, and an MRI is a great choice.

A shoulder MRI is a pain-free and non-invasive way for your provider to get highly detailed images of the inside of your shoulder.

The results from your shoulder MRI will help your provider to diagnose your shoulder condition, and to make a treatment plan, so you can get back to feeling your best.

We’ll help you figure out how to get ready for your shoulder MRI, what you can expect during your MRI scan, and what happens afterwards.

Let’s find out more about what it’s like to get a shoulder MRI scan at an outpatient imaging center.

Preparing for your shoulder MRI scan

Getting ready for your upcoming shoulder MRI will be worry free, if you follow your provider’s instructions, and keep a few things in mind.

We’ll let you know how to dress, what to eat and drink, and whether you should take your regular medication as usual.

What should I wear to the MRI appointment?

Choosing what to wear to your MRI appointment is more about comfort and practicality than fashion. 

Opt for loose, comfortable clothing without any metal fasteners, zippers, or buttons. Metal can interfere with the magnetic field of the MRI machine, affecting the quality of the images. 

Most facilities will provide you with a gown to wear during the scan to avoid any issues with metal on your clothing. 

Additionally, it’s a good idea to leave jewelry, watches, and any other metal accessories at home. 

If you wear glasses, hearing aids, or have dental work, you might be asked to remove them if they contain metal. 

Should I avoid eating or drinking before the scan?

In most cases, you won’t need to alter your eating and drinking habits before a shoulder MRI scan. 

However, there are exceptions, especially if your scan requires the use of a contrast dye. If that’s the case, you might be asked to fast for a specific period before your appointment. 

Be sure to follow the imaging center’s instructions about any dietary restrictions prior to the scan if recommended when you schedule your appointment.

For the most part, you can stick to your normal routine, ensuring you’re as comfortable as possible before the scan.

Do I need to adjust my medication schedule before the scan?

The best course of action is to provide a detailed list of your medications to your healthcare provider ahead of your MRI appointment. 

For most people, taking your regular medications before an MRI scan won’t pose a problem. 

However, there are always exceptions, particularly if you’re taking medications that could affect your kidney function or interact with contrast dye. 

Before your scan, your provider will review your medications, and let you know if you need to make any adjustments.

Understanding the MRI machine and the scanning environment

If you’ve never had an MRI scan before, you might be a little surprised when you first see an MRI machine

They’re big, and they sometimes make loud sounds, but MRI machines are nothing to be afraid of. Let’s check out what MRI machines look like, and what they sound like, so you’ll know before your appointment.

What does an MRI machine look like?

The MRI machine is a large, tube-shaped device that houses a powerful magnet. It’s shaped kind of like a doughnut.

When you enter the scanning room, you’ll notice that the centerpiece of the machine is a long cylindrical tube, open at both ends, where you’ll be positioned for the scan. You’ll lie on a movable table that slides into the machine. 

MRI machines are designed to be as comfortable as possible for you during the scan. There’s an intercom, so you can speak with the technician if needed, and imaging centers may offer headphones to listen to music or earplugs to help make your experience more comfortable.

What kind of noises can I expect during the scan?

During your scan, an MRI machine makes a variety of sounds, from tapping to thumping noises throughout the scan. 

These sounds are perfectly normal. It’s just the machine’s powerful magnets being turned on and off rapidly to capture images of your shoulder. 

The intensity of these noises can be surprising at first, but most people find them more curious than bothersome after a few minutes. 

As we mentioned, imaging centers are often able to provide earplugs or headphones to help you feel more comfortable.

If your scan requires a contrast agent, your healthcare provider will discuss this with you in advance, explaining why it’s needed and what to expect. 

Medical technical assistant preparing scan of the shoulder with MRI

What to expect during your shoulder MRI

We think your MRI should be worry-free, and as quick as possible, so we want to let you know what to expect from your upcoming shoulder MRI scan. 

Let’s walk through what you’ll experience, step by step, to demystify the process and help you approach your scan with confidence.

Will I need a contrast agent for my shoulder MRI scan?

Whether you’ll need a contrast agent for your shoulder MRI scan depends on the specifics of what your healthcare provider is trying to diagnose. 

Contrast is a special dye that helps improve the clarity of the MRI images by highlighting certain structures and tissues more clearly. 

If required, this agent is usually administered through a vein in your arm shortly before the scan begins.

It’s particularly useful for examining blood vessels and inflammation or for providing a more detailed view of complex joint structures like those in your shoulder. 

For a shoulder MRI scan, how will I be positioned in the MRI machine?

You’ll be asked to lie down on a movable table that slides into the MRI machine. 

Depending on the area of the shoulder that needs examination, you may be positioned on your back, or on your side (which is less common). 

Your arm may be placed at your side or positioned in a special holder to keep it still and in the optimal position for imaging. Your technologist may use soft straps or cushions to help keep you comfortable and prevent movement during the scan. 

Once you’re positioned correctly, it’s very important for you to remain as still as possible, since even small movements can blur the images. 

Your healthcare team will communicate with you, throughout the process, to ensure you’re comfortable and correctly positioned.

How long does a shoulder MRI usually take?

On average, it takes about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the specifics of what your healthcare provider needs to see. 

An MRI scan involves capturing a series of images from different angles, and sometimes additional scans are needed to get a comprehensive view of your shoulder structure. 

It’s a good idea to plan for a little extra time just in case your scan is on the longer side. Your goal is to get the best possible images for an accurate diagnosis, so while it might feel like a bit of a wait, it’s time well spent.

What should I do if I feel uncomfortable or anxious during the scan?

Before the scan begins, communicate any concerns or fears you have with the technician. They can explain the process in more detail and often offer solutions such as earplugs or music to help you relax. 

During the scan, you’ll be able to communicate with the technician through a two-way intercom so you can let them know if you’re feeling anxious or need a break. 

Focusing on slow, deep breaths can also help manage anxiety and keep you calm. Some people find it helpful to close their eyes and visualize a peaceful scene or practice mindfulness. 

Don’t forget that the technologist is there to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you, so don’t hesitate to let them know how you’re feeling.

What happens after your shoulder MRI scan

Once your shoulder MRI scan is finished, you might wonder what comes next, and how you can find out your results. 

Let’s explore what you can expect after the scan, from immediate post-scan procedures to receiving results, and discussing next steps with your healthcare provider.

What can I expect after my MRI scan?

Immediately after your shoulder MRI scan, you’ll be able to resume your regular activities. 

If you receive a contrast agent, there are typically no special precautions to follow, but it’s always a good idea to drink plenty of water to help flush the agent from your body. 

You won’t feel any aftereffects from the scan itself, as MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves, which don’t leave residual effects in the body. 

This smooth transition back to your daily routine is one of the many advantages of MRI scans.

How will I receive the results of my shoulder MRI?

After your MRI scan, a radiologist will analyze the images and compile a report detailing their findings. 

This process usually takes a few days, but the exact timeframe can vary. Once the report is ready, it will be sent directly to the healthcare provider who ordered your scan. 

Touchstone Medical Imaging provides patients with a patient-friendly imaging report via text message 48 hours after the radiologist has finalized the report. There are definitions for medical terminology and anatomical diagrams to make your report easy to understand. We recommend reviewing your report prior to your follow up appointment with your doctor.

You’ll then have a follow-up appointment or a phone call with your provider to discuss the results. This conversation is an excellent opportunity to ask questions and gain a deeper understanding of your shoulder’s condition. 

What are the next steps if my provider sees something unusual in my shoulder MRI results?

If your MRI results reveal something unusual, or if your results confirm a specific condition, your provider will discuss the implications and the next steps with you. 

This might include further diagnostic tests, a referral to a specialist, or discussing treatment options. The specific course of action will depend on the nature of the findings. 

Some conditions might require physical therapy, while others could need medication, or even surgery. 

The most important thing is to work closely with your provider to understand your options, and make informed decisions about your health.

How to schedule your MRI appointment with us

Touchstone Medical Imaging offers MRI scans in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

Reach out to us at Touchstone, and we’ll help you schedule an MRI appointment at an imaging center near you, today.

We’re here to help you get the answers you need.

Find a touchstone medical imaging center near you

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Wear comfortable, metal-free clothing to ensure safety and ease during the scan.

You can eat and drink normally unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.

Generally, you can continue your medications as usual, but confirm with your healthcare provider.

An MRI machine is a large tube with a central hole that accommodates a sliding table for the patient.

 Expect loud clanging and buzzing noises, for which you’ll likely be offered earplugs or headphones.

A contrast agent might be used to enhance the scan’s detail, depending on what your doctor is looking for.

A shoulder MRI typically takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

Notify the technician; they can assist you and make adjustments to help you feel more comfortable.