Shoulder MRI

Shoulder MRI

When is an MRI of the Shoulder Indicated?

MRI is often used to find the reason for a complaint or symptom such as shoulder pain. For Colorado's active population, shoulder complaints are common from trauma or other causes. Radiologists also use MRI to get a better look at a finding discovered by an x-ray.

  • While fractures of bones from trauma can be evaluated with standard x-rays, the components within the joint and soft tissues between the bones need MRI to look further.

Subtle injuries to components of the shoulder including:

  • The labrum (cushion between the bones of the shoulder)
  • Or the ligaments (fibrous bands that hold the joints together)
  • Or tendons (connect the bones to muscles)

     are all best evaluated by MRI.

Your clinician may order an MRI to check the extent of the injury after a sudden trauma. Theshoulder MRI 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 shoulder and allow movement in all directions. Approximately twenty muscles make up and support the shoulder joint. The most important of these muscles are the anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. Some of these muscles make up the cuff around the joint known as the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff muscles include:

  • The supraspinatus
  • The infraspinatus
  • The subscapularis
  • And the teres minor.

MRI is useful to diagnose whether an acute (sudden) or long-standing (chronic) labrum tear or a rotator cuff tear may be the cause of pain or loss of function.

  • If a tear is identified within the labrum or the muscle, MRI can provide details on the severity of the tear. Is this a partial tear or a complete tear?

The MRI images are helpful for a physical therapist or an orthopedic surgeon. As it provides a more detailed map to use for future physical therapy or surgery. Sometimes an MRI only shows swelling of these soft tissue structures and not a tear. Arthritis is usually best evaluated with x-rays. If the degree of shoulder pain or dysfunction does not agree with the x-ray findings, an MRI may be useful.


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 commonly 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:

The Women’s Imaging Center performs all MRIs at the Denver /Cherry Creek center. You will need to complete the medical history of any medical conditions. Please tell the scheduler and the technologist if you have any of the following because an MRI may not be possible:

  • Metal in your body such as metal fragments from trauma or surgery that may be an issue for the “magnetic pull” of the MRI.
  • Any surgery anywhere on your body including your limbs, abdomen, brain, or heart.
  • If you have any implanted devices such as:
  • Pacemakers
  • Defibrillators
  • Aneurysm clips
  • Auditory hearing implants
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Internal wires or electrodes
  • Implanted pumps or ports
  • Surgical mesh
  • Any coils, stents, or filters 
  • 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.
  • Some external body wear or design such as:
    • Body or face/ makeup tattooing
    • Permanent piercings

         may limit you from having the MRI.

Current or prior metal workers may have small fragments in their eyes as an occupational hazard. You may need to have an x-ray before performing the MRI. Jewelry and piercings must not be present on your body for your safety in the magnet. Please see our MRI SAFETY FORM for more information. 


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 magnet (within the MRI machine) makes a loud clunky sound. The technologists will fit you with comfortable headphones. You may choose to listen to music through headphones. Making the magnet sound indistinct. Many patients actually find the exam soothing because of the music and may fall asleep. It is important not to move quickly or jerk during the exam. Jerking may cause irregularities in the images from signals of the magnets moving. An MRI of the shoulder is usually performed without the need for intravenous (IV) contrast dye. If your clinician is looking for a tumor, he or she may order a “contrast MRI”. This means that the technologist will inject a dye into the vein in your arm. Tumors tend to be vascular and the dye enhances (highlights or outlines) the tumor.


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 bore (opening), so much that you can touch the sides with your outstretched arms. The MRI machine is also shorter than most MRI machines you would see at hospitals. This is because we perform dedicated MRIs of many other organs like the joints, breasts, pelvis, and abdomen. The Espirit MRI is also called an “Open MRI Solution” by the manufacturer Siemens.


  • Your head will be near the end of the magnet so you can see out. You will be talking with the MRI technologist during the entire exam. She can make any adjustments needed to make you more comfortable.

The great majority of the time, no premedication is necessary. But, if you feel you cannot perform the MRI without sedation, then our radiologists or yours can write oral anxiety medication. You will have to pick it up and coordinate consumption with the timing of your MRI exam under our advice. You will need a designated driver, a Lyft, or an Uber to drop and pick you up. You are not allowed to drive after taking the medicine  of 

The MRI imaging may take 25 to 35 minutes depending on whether special imaging sequences are needed. The complexity of shoulder or joint imaging may affect the time needed to perform the imaging scan.


How Do I Get My Results?

Hundreds of MRI images in various sequences will be produced for each MRI study. Once that is complete, the radiologist will need to interpret the results. Thus, the results will not be immediately available. An MRI specialist or the patient navigator will call you about your results.

  • If you have any prior examinations elsewhere, please let us know the location so that we can get these for faster comparison.

The images from any center can be transferred to The Women’s Imaging Center quickly. 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. They will discuss any further action recommended based on your imaging results.


3773 Cherry Creek N. Dr. # 101
Denver, CO 80209

1265 Sergeant Jon Stiles Drive, Unit H
Highlands Ranch, CO 80129

215 Union Blvd. Suite 100
Lakewood, CO 80228

9035 Wadsworth Parkway, Suite 2800
Westminster, CO 80021


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