News + Insights  |  March 11, 2017  |  Charles V. Pope, MD

Can an MRI Help Diagnose and Treat Arthritis Pain?

Almost all of us know someone who lives with the discomfort caused by arthritis or joint pain. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that nearly 46 million Americans have some form of arthritis. Unfortunately, the likelihood of developing some form of this chronic condition increases with age leaving about half of those over age 65 effected. Imaging technologies, particularly MRI, can play an important role not only in diagnosing arthritis, but in assisting with monitoring treatments and pain-relieving therapies.

Benefits of an MRI

MRI — magnetic resonance imaging — uses magnets, radiofrequency pulses, and computer technology to produce detailed images of the body. This technology can show detailed cross-sections of soft tissues like cartilage, tendons and ligaments. MRI is the most effective way to diagnose problems within any joint and the image sensitivity makes it the most accurate imaging tool available in detecting arthritis and other inflammatory changes.

MRI is also a key diagnostic tool when patients have lower back pain, radiating pain or hip/groin pain. Conventional image technologies confirm degenerative hip disease, but for many patients there is no clear-cut cause for their pain, at least during an initial evaluation. An MRI can provide an enormous amount of information and is the best tool for accurately diagnosing situations when patients have a known trauma or suspected hip fracture.

MRIs Can Aid in Monitoring and Treatment Options

Just as MRI is the best imaging tool for diagnosing arthritis, it’s also considered the best tool for monitoring it. MRI scans allow radiologists to document the condition’s progress and help advice the effectiveness of treatments.  

When patients don’t respond to medication or therapy, image-guided injections can help deliver medicines to the primary cause of the pain. Healthcare providers may order a fluoroscopic-guided injection to ensure the injection is exactly where it needs to be, delivering pain-relieving drugs precisely to the site. This type of accuracy can be helpful to patients who suffer from arthritis and is extremely beneficial in joints that are deep or difficult to approach, such as the hip or foot.

Improvements in technology have impacted radiology as much, if not more, than any other field of medicine. Thankfully, we no longer have to sit by and watch these diseases progress without being able to dramatically improve treatments. If you are suffering from joint pain or arthritis, you may benefit from having a MRI to help either confirm diagnosis or improve treatment options. We recommend you talk with your doctor and to determine if a MRI at Wake Radiology is an appropriate part of your treatment plan. You can learn more about joint injections and our orthopedic and sports imaging services by visiting the orthopedic/sports section at

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