Shoulder MRI Scans: Here’s What to Expect

If you have shoulder pain or a documented injury that’s not getting better, there’s a chance your doctor will order a shoulder MRI scan. Overall, the MRI is one of the best diagnostic tools we have to identify your condition. That’s a good thing. After all, the sooner your doctors have a diagnosis, the sooner they can fix the problem.

There are a few things you should know if you’ve never had a shoulder MRI before. First off, your shoulder is a very unique and complicated joint. It’s the only arrangement in the skeleton that features a movable platform — otherwise known as your shoulder blade. For this reason, the shoulder has the most mobility with the least stability of any joint in the body.

This unique system makes shoulder injuries very common. And among these common injuries, those associated with repetitive motion, are highly prevalent. Injury symptoms range from pain, swelling, and tingling, to weakness and limited mobility.

Your doctor may recommend an MRI of the shoulder in response to chronic or acute shoulder pain, or the problem might be a simple change in mobility. Regardless of the injury, an MRI scan uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create a detailed image of the bones and soft tissue of the joint, allowing medical professionals to assess the quality of health of the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. This type of scan can help a doctor diagnose a dislocation, tears, fractures, or degenerative issues.

How to Prepare for a Shoulder MRI Scan

MRI scans are a safe, low-risk procedure. There is no radiation involved, and no known negative side effects from the radio waves or magnets used during the scan. However, it’s a good idea to ask questions and to let you doctor know of any physical limitations before your scan.

If you are claustrophobic or have issues with laying still for long periods of time, be sure to let your doctor know before you arrive for your scan. You should also notify your doctor if:

  • You are or might be pregnant
  • You are allergic to any medications
  • You have an IUD
  • You have any metal implants, a pacemaker, or artificial limbs

Don’t worry too much about all these questions for now. Your technologist will lead you through a detailed safety questionnaire before beginning the scan.

During and After the Shoulder MRI Scan

Before the scan, you’ll have to remove all metal objects from you person (this includes jewelry, hearing aids, dentures, etc.) You may also have to change into a medical gown. You will then lie on your back on a movable table that is part of the MRI machine. MRI scans require the patient to remain extremely still the entire time, so the technician may use straps on your head, arms, or chest to help keep you in place. Some tests also require the use of a contrast dye, which is administered via IV before the scan begins.

The table then moves into position inside the machine, which is a long, narrow tube. As the scan proceeds, you may hear the thumping of the magnetic coils inside the machine. Meanwhile, the technician will ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds at a time. The process of the scan can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour.

The quality of the images depends on your ability to keep still and follow directions for holding your breath when asked. If you become overwhelmed or anxious, or start to feel pain during the process, be sure to let the technician know.

Some people take relaxation medication before an MRI scan to help with any anxieties, but the scan can be stopped at any time if you feel uncomfortable. You can also ask your technologist about Open MRI scanners, which have been effective at making nervous patients more comfortable during scans.

After your scan is complete, you can usually go about your day normally, unless your doctor has advised otherwise. The images from your scan will be examined by a radiologist, and the results passed on to your physician.

To learn more about shoulder MRI scans, or to book an appointment, call at 888-322-7785 today.