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Arthrogram: About This Test

What is an arthrogram?

An arthrogram is a test to take pictures of the tissues inside your joint. These tissues include tendons, ligaments, muscles, and cartilage. First your doctor injects a contrast material, such as a dye or air, into your joint. Then imaging is done with X-rays, an MRI, or a CT scan.

Why is it done?

An arthrogram is used to find the cause of symptoms in your joint. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, or abnormal movement of your joint. It may also be done to see if you can be helped with surgery, such as arthroscopy.

An arthrogram can:

  • Find problems in your joint capsule, ligaments, or cartilage. Problems could include tears, arthritis, or disease. For example, this test may be used to help find problems such as rotator cuff tears. It may find problems with the bones of the joint.
  • Find fluid-filled cysts.

How do you prepare for an arthrogram?

Tell your doctor before your test if you:

  • Are allergic to any type of contrast material.
  • Are allergic to iodine. The dye used for this test may contain iodine.
  • Are or might be pregnant.
  • Have ever had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) from any substance. For instance, have you had a reaction from a bee sting or eating shellfish?
  • Are allergic to any medicines. This includes anesthetics.
  • Have asthma.
  • Have bleeding problems or take blood-thinning medicines.
  • Have arthritis that is bothering you at the time of your test.
  • Have a known infection in or around your joint. The dye may make your infection worse.
  • Have diabetes or take metformin (such as Glucophage) for your diabetes.
  • Have kidney problems.

How is it done?

  • The skin and tissues over the joint will be numbed with medicine.
  • The doctor will put a small needle into your joint. He or she may remove a sample of the joint fluid for testing.
  • Your doctor may use a fluoroscope to guide the needle and take a series of X-ray pictures of the joint.
  • The doctor will inject a contrast material into your joint. This is usually dye, but it can also be saline, air, or a combination. It helps the doctor see the soft tissues of the joint. Then the doctor removes the needle.
  • You may be asked to be still. Or you may be asked to move your joint.
  • You may also have an MRI or a CT scan to get images of the joint.

How long does it take?

The test usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably go home in a few hours or less.
  • You may have some soreness or swelling in the joint.
  • You may hear your joint click or make other noises for a few days.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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