An arthrogram is a diagnostic study of the joint structures within the body by injection of x-ray contrast (dye). As the dye disperses, the radiologist documents whether the dye is contained or is leaking, which indicates the stability and integrity of the joint and reveals cartilage tears and other injuries.
An arthrogram is sometimes performed as a sole diagnostic test. If the site and nature of the injury are clearly apparent, the diagnostic process may stop here. In other cases, arthrography can be the first phase of a diagnostic process that also includes CT or MRI scans.
A thin needle is used to inject x-ray contrast solution into the joint. There may be some discomfort from the needle but, for most people, this is minor. The radiologist will check the needle position by means of a fluoroscope (x-ray) connected to a television monitor. After the radiologist injects contrast solution and possibly air into the joint, x-rays will be taken.
You may experience a sensation of tightness or "squishiness" in the joint that lasts up to 24 hours and as long as two days for some patients. Your joint area may become more painful than usual beginning 4-6 hours after the arthrogram, but the pain will gradually subside over the next day or two. You can treat it with over-the-counter pain medicines (analgesics), such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin.
Your joint should return to its usual mobility and level of pain by the second or third day following the arthrogram.