What Is a Knee MRI?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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A knee MRI is a medical procedure that allows doctors to clearly see the inside of the knee without the use of any invasive techniques. An MRI, which stands for “magnetic resonance imaging,” is essentially a large magnet chamber into which a person enters, usually lying down. In a knee MRI, doctors focus the chamber’s magnetic energy on a specific knee joint. The results are black-and-white x-ray type images that give a detailed, granular view of all muscles, ligaments, and bones in the knee.

An MRI is different from an x-ray in a number of important ways. First, an MRI does not use any radiation. It is based wholly on magnetism and shortwave radio frequency transmissions. Neither nuclear magnetic resonance imaging nor magnetic resonance tomography, both forms of MRI technology, make use of radiation waves, either. This makes the MRI process safer, and exposure carries virtually no risks for healthy people.

The images generated by a knee MRI are also much clearer than would be possible by simply x-raying the joint. Magnetic resonance imaging works by using magnets to temporarily reorient the body’s atoms. When electrical and radio currents then pass through the chamber, the machine is able to transmit a three-dimensional image back to the host computer.


Doctors can usually view knee MRI scans in a variety of formats. On the computer, images can be rotated, enlarged, or otherwise digitally manipulated. From there, doctors can print slides or forward select images to operating rooms and hospital archives.

The knee is a complex joint, made up of many different ligaments, muscle junctions, and menisci. It is essential for many basic movements, including standing, sitting, and walking. Injuries in the knees are common among a great many people, from athletes to the elderly and basically everyone in between. A knee MRI gives doctors a noninvasive way of looking into the joint to get a sense of what is happening beneath the skin.

An MRI often leads to surgery or other treatments, which are tailored for the specific injury or degeneration at issue. Conducting the scans allows doctors to anticipate what they will find in the knee before opening it up, which can save a lot of unnecessary cutting. Doctors may sometimes inject patients with intravenous dye during a knee MRI to make the complex workings of the knee more independently visible, but otherwise, the procedure is completely non-invasive.

Most of the time, a knee MRI is conducted by a radiologist. Radiology is the medical specialty that deals with the use of advanced medical imaging as a means of diagnosing and treating a range of injuries. Cancer and muscular degeneration problems are often easiest to see and detect early on using MRI technology, and knee issues are no different.


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