If you're worried that your joints are damaged, or are at risk of being damaged in the future, you may want to consider arthrography. Arthrography is the use of imaging to assess the condition of a person's joints. A physician who performs an arthrogram will be able to see how badly damaged or deteriorated a joint is and can recommend surgery or other treatment options based upon the results. Not only does arthrography reveal the present state of your joints, but it also can give your orthopedist clues as to what your joints are likely to look like in the future.

Although arthrography can be performed on many different joints, orthopedists tend to use it on the shoulders, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. It's particularly effective at revealing ligament tears and joint dislocations, and can be repeated over time in order to discern a progressive pattern of damage.

Your personal situation will determine which kind of arthrogram your doctor chooses. Conventional arthrography entails doing an x-ray exam using fluoroscopy, which allows the physician to see real-time movement. Before performing the x-ray, an iodine contrast solution is injected into the joint. The solution fills the joint and shows up as bright white on the x-ray, enabling the physician to look at the structure and mobility of the joint.  MR arthrography is a popular method similar to conventional arthrography. It uses a substance called gadolinium that has magnetic properties. Other methods include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which employs a magnetic field and radiofrequency to produce images, and CT arthrography, which is similar to conventional arthrography but can yield cross-sectional images.

You don't need any special preparation for an arthrogram, and in most cases you'll have it done on an outpatient basis. In fact, the most difficult part may be knowing that a needle will be inserted into your joint. You may feel a slight pinprick and a short burning sensation if you've had a local anesthetic. You may experience a "full" feeling as the contrast solution, possibly along with air, enters the joint, and you may hear gurgling when you move. A very small number of patients will have allergic reactions to the solution. Afterwards you may be slightly sore or swollen, but otherwise there is no real recovery period.

Source: www.radiologyinfo.org (published by the American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America)