When is an MRI of the Shoulder Needed?
MRI is often used to find the reason for a complaint or symptom. For Colorado’s active population, shoulder complaints are common from trauma or other causes. MRI is also used to get a better look at a finding discovered by an x-ray.
To examine fractured bones, we use x-rays. But, we use MRI to examine the components within the joint and the soft tissues between the bones.
Subtle injuries to different parts of the shoulder are all best evaluated by MRI. Your clinician may order an MRI to check the extent of the injury after a sudden trauma. The shoulder is a very complex joint referred to as a “ball and socket” which allows for great rotation. The strength of the shoulder though comes from the muscles that make up the cuff known as the “rotator cuff”.
If a tear is present within the shoulder joint, the MRI can provide details on the severity of the tear. Is this a partial tear or a complete tear?
The MRI images and reports give a physical therapist or an orthopedic surgeon a more detailed map. The map is for future therapy or surgery. Sometimes an MRI only shows swelling of these soft tissue structures and not a tear. Arthritis is best evaluated with x-rays. But, MRI may be useful if the degree of pain or dysfunction differs from the x-ray findings.
What is a Shoulder MRI?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI for short) is an imaging technology that uses magnets and radio waves to produce detailed 3-D Imaging of the shoulder and joint. These signals are then converted to images for the radiologists to interpret.
MRI is usually performed to distinguish normal tissues from injured or pathologic tissues.
MRI is also used as a diagnostic scan to find the reason for a complaint or symptom. It is sometimes used to diagnose tumors.
How to Prepare Ahead of Time:
We ask that you complete the medical history of any medical conditions. Please tell the scheduler and the technologist if you have any metal in your body:
metal fragments from trauma
or surgery that may be an issue for the “magnetic pull” of the MRI.
Tell us if you have had any surgery anywhere on your body including your limbs, abdomen, brain, or heart. If you have any planted devices such as the following:
- aneurysm clips
- auditory hearing implants
- internal wires or electrodes
- implanted pumps or ports
- surgical mesh
- any coils
- or filters
Please tell your technologist before scheduling because an MRI may not be possible.
Many cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators are not compatible with MRI. Some of the newer devices are so it is important to know from your surgeon and the manufacturer what kind you have.
If you have any of the following please let us know ahead of time;
- body or face/ makeup tattooing
- permanent piercings (may limit you from having the MRI)
- If you are a current or prior metal worker, we may ask you to have an x-before performing the MRI.
Please remove any jewelry and piercings ahead of time.
For more information, please see our MRI SAFETY FORM.
How is a Shoulder MRI Performed?
You will be lying on your back on a comfortable table that moves into and out of the MRI machine. The MRI machine will make a loud clunky sound which is standard in all MRI machines. The technologists will provide headphones to listen to music during the exam. Many patients actually find the exam soothing because of the music and may fall asleep. Many patients actually find the exam soothing because of the music and may fall asleep. It is important not to jerk the body during the exam. Jerking of the body may cause irregularities in the images.
What if You are Claustrophobic?
Claustrophobia, “a fear of being in closed or narrow spaces”, is not uncommon. The MRI used at The Women’s Imaging Center has an especially wide opening. The MRI machine is shorter than most MRI machines you would see at hospitals. Our is shorter because we perform dedicated MRIs of specific female systems. For example, breasts, pelvis, abdomen, and joints.
Your head will be near the end of the magnet so you can see out. The MRI technologist will be checking in with you through the entire exam. She can make any adjustments to make you more comfortable.
The great majority of the time, no premedication is needed. If you feel you cannot perform the MRI without sedation, our physicians or yours can write a script. This script will be for oral anxiety medications. You will have to pick up and coordinate with the timing of your MRI exam under our advice.
The MRI imaging may take 25 to 40 minutes. The complexity of the shoulder or joint may affect the time needed to perform the imaging scan.
How do I get my Results?
Hundreds of MRI images in various sequences produce an MRI image. The results will not be immediately available. An MRI specialist or the patient navigator will call you with the results when ready.
Please inform us of any prior examinations elsewhere to ensure a faster comparison.
The images from many centers can transfer to The Women’s Imaging Center. You might have to sign a release form so that we may request this transfer. We will also send a copy of your report to your ordering clinician. Your clinician will discuss any further action recommended based on your imaging results.