A shoulder MRI is a medical imaging study which is designed to provide information about the internal anatomy of a patient's shoulder. This type of study is ordered when a patient presents with shoulder pain and a doctor wants to get a picture of what is going on inside the shoulder. Shoulder MRIs are also used to monitor the outcome of a shoulder surgery, to confirm that the site has healed well.
In magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), hydrogen atoms inside the body are excited with magnetization and hit with a radio frequency field which results in the generation of a magnetic field which can be detected by the imaging machine. One advantage to an MRI is that it does not expose the patient to ionizing radiation, and it also provides very high resolution images of the inside of the body, including differing areas of soft tissue.
In a typical shoulder MRI, the patient will be asked to change into a hospital gown and remove all metal belongings, including piercings, wedding jewelery, and so forth. If a patient has metal inside his or her body, as in the case of a pacemaker or pins used during orthopedic surgery, this should be disclosed to the technician administering the test. Once prepared, the patient is placed on a table which is rolled into the MRI machine, and the machine is turned on.
During a shoulder MRI, the patient is alone in the MRI room, but a technician can see the patient through a window, and there is a two-way communication system which the technician and patient can use to talk to each other. Patients should report adverse symptoms, such as extreme pain, so that the technician can stop the test. The patient also needs to hold very still inside the MRI machine so that a clear image can be obtained. If a patient knows that she or he will have trouble holding still, a sedative can be administered to help the patient relax.
Being inside an MRI machine can be very intense. The machine is extremely loud, and patients are often provided with headphones or ear plugs for their comfort. Some people also find it claustrophobic and may experience stress or panic attacks. Patients who know that they are not comfortable in confined spaces may want to ask if an open MRI machine is available to conduct the shoulder MRI.
A shoulder MRI can take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the level of detail requested. Patients may experience a sensation of warmth in the shoulder, but the imaging study should not be painful. In some cases, contrast may be injected by request from a doctor. In an MRI with contrast, patients can experience additional side effects, including allergic reactions to components of the contrast dye. If a contrast study is requested, patients should ask about the side effects associated with the contrast being used, and they should inform their doctors about any allergies.