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Shoulder MRI

A shoulder MRI is a non-invasive imaging test that provides detailed pictures of the shoulder's soft tissues, bones, and joints, helping diagnose various conditions and injuries.

Shoulder MRI Scan: Your Complete Guide 

MRI, which stands for magnetic resonance imaging, is a medical scanning technique that provides detailed insights into your internal body structures and anatomy. This allows your referring physician to identify any issues or assess the causes of symptoms.

Given that the shoulder joint includes bones, soft tissues such as cartilage and ligaments, blood vessels, lymph nodes, and muscles, an MRI exam is useful for detecting shoulder injuries, determining the causes of shoulder pain, and obtaining an accurate diagnosis to guide your treatment plan.

When to Get a Shoulder MRI?

A shoulder MRI is particularly useful for examining soft tissues, providing a detailed look at tendons, ligaments, and muscles, which is crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment planning. 

Reasons for getting a shoulder MRI include:

  • Shoulder Pain: This could be a symptom of various medical conditions, including:some text
    • Rotator cuff disorders or tears: Injuries to the group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder.
    • Rotator cuff tendinopathy: Chronic damage to the tendons from overuse.
    • Degenerative joint disorders: Wear and tear of the shoulder joint, such as labral tears or fraying.
    • Soft tissue damage: Injuries to muscles, tendons, or ligaments.
    • Bone fractures: Broken bones in the shoulder.
    • Bursitis: Inflammation of the small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the shoulder joint.
  • Shoulder Instability: MRI can examine damage to the glenoid labrum, the soft tissue that helps keep the shoulder joint stable and absorbs shock. This damage can result from dislocation or partial dislocation.
  • Stiffness or Reduced Mobility: This could indicate a frozen shoulder, where movement becomes very limited and painful.
  • Post-Surgical Outcomes: Assess the results of shoulder surgery and check for any complications.
  • Pain, Swelling, Bleeding: These symptoms could indicate an infection in the shoulder.
  • Lumps and Bumps: Evaluate any unusual growths. 

What does a Shoulder MRI Scan Detect?

A shoulder MRI scan can help detect a variety of issues and conditions related to the shoulder joint, including:

  1. Rotator Cuff Disorders: Tears or damage to the group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder.
  2. Labral Tears: Damage to the glenoid labrum, the fibrous rim of cartilage that helps stabilize the shoulder joint.
  3. Degenerative Joint Disorders: Osteoarthritis or other wear-and-tear changes in the shoulder joint.
  4. Soft Tissue Damage: Sprains or strains of the muscles, tendons, or ligaments around the shoulder.
  5. Bone Abnormalities: Fractures or other injuries to the bones of the shoulder (humerus, clavicle, scapula).
  6. Bursitis: Inflammation of the fluid-filled bursa sacs that lubricate the shoulder joint.
  7. Shoulder Instability: Damage to the structures that help stabilize the shoulder joint, leading to dislocations or partial dislocations (subluxations).
  8. Frozen Shoulder: Stiffness and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint.
  9. Surgical Complications: Issues or abnormalities following previous shoulder surgery.
  10. Tumors: Growths or masses in the shoulder area, including primary or metastatic cancers.

The detailed images provided by an MRI allow radiologists to thoroughly evaluate the bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues that make up the complex shoulder joint. 

Do I need a contrast injection for my shoulder MRI?

Whether you need a contrast injection for your shoulder MRI depends on the specific reason for the scan and what your doctor is trying to evaluate. Here are a few key points:

  • A shoulder MRI without contrast is the standard, baseline procedure to obtain detailed images of the bones, soft tissues, and joints in the shoulder area.
  • Contrast dye, usually gadolinium, may be injected intravenously during the MRI if more detailed imaging is needed. This can help highlight certain structures and abnormalities that may not be as visible without contrast.
  • Contrast is sometimes used when evaluating for suspected tumors, infections, or complications from prior shoulder surgery.
  • Adding the contrast injection can extend the total scan time by an additional 15-30 minutes.
  • Patients with certain medical conditions or allergies may not be able to receive the contrast dye.

So in summary, your doctor will determine if a contrast injection is necessary based on your specific symptoms, medical history, and what they are trying to diagnose or evaluate with the shoulder MRI. The decision to use contrast or not is made on a case-by-case basis. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor and the radiology staff before your scheduled MRI appointment.

How to Position Yourself for a Shoulder MRI?

Here are the key steps for positioning yourself for a shoulder MRI:

  1. Removal of Metal ObjectsYou will be asked to remove any metal jewelry, watches, or clothing with metal fasteners before the scan.
  2. Lying on the table You will lie down on a motorized table that will slide into the MRI machine.
  3. Entering the MRI MachineThe table will slowly slide you into the tunnel-shaped MRI machine.
  4. Remaining StillIt is crucial that you remain very still during the MRI, as any movement can blur the images.
  5. Contrast Injection (if needed)If contrast dye is required, an IV line will be placed in your arm before the scan.

Does your whole body go in for an upper arm or shoulder MRI?

A shoulder MRI is usually conducted with your entire body inside a traditional MRI scanner, although your feet might remain outside the machine.

For those with claustrophobia, an open MRI scanner might be recommended, as it allows for a clearer view of the surrounding room. However, open scanners have a lower magnetic field strength compared to traditional machines, making them unsuitable for certain types of MR imaging.

How long does a shoulder MRI take?

A shoulder MRI typically takes 15 to 45 minutes to complete. In some cases, the procedure may be as quick as 15 minutes.

The exact duration can vary depending on several factors:

  • The number of images needed for a detailed analysis
  • Whether contrast dye is used, which can add an extra 15-30 minutes
  • If sedation is required for patients who have difficulty staying still

Procedures that require sedation may take 15 to 30 minutes longer.

Schedule your MRI Scan

A shoulder MRI is a valuable, non-invasive diagnostic tool that provides detailed images of the shoulder's anatomy, aiding in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as rotator cuff tears, soft tissue damage, bone fractures, and bursitis. Offering both traditional and open MRI scanners, patients can select the most comfortable option for their needs.

Opting for a private MRI scan can help you avoid long wait times often associated with public healthcare systems like the NHS, leading to a quicker diagnosis and the first step toward rehabilitation and returning to your normal life.

Ready to take the first step toward relief? Book your MRI scan today and start your journey to recovery.

Lorea getscanned.uk content writter
Reviewed by
Dr. Sachin Shah
Clinical Lead
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Frequently asked questions

Do I need a GP-referral?

No prior GP-referral is required. Booking with us includes a GP phone consultation and referral. Shortly after booking you will be contacted by a GP from our team who will discuss your scan and provide a referral.

How long is an MRI scan?

MRI scans generally take a bit longer than other types of scans. Individual scans take 10-30 minutes depending on the body part being scanned, overall it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes. You do have to lay very still for an MRI and if there is movement the scan may need to be repeated which can add some additional time.

What’s included in my booking?

With your GetScanned booking, you will receive:

  • A pre-scan phone consultation with a member of our medical team.
  • A referral for the scan.
  • Scheduling of a private MRI scan at your preferred scanning centre.
  • Access to your written report by a radiologist.
  • Access to your scan images (online and downloadable).

How much is a private MRI scan?

A private MRI scan cost varies depending on the part of the body being scanned and the location the scan is performed. Generally, a private MRI scan in the UK starts at around £350, and includes the scheduling, scan itself and results.

What’s the difference between an open and closed MRI?

Closed MRI machines are the traditional and first type of MRI. They are used more frequently because they provide higher quality images, however they aren’t ideal for certain types of scan or when the patient has limited mobility. Open or wide-bore MRI machines don’t involve lying in a tight cylinder, instead they have wider openings with more space and are therefore considered better if you suffer from claustrophobia. A standing MRI or upright MRI is a new type of open MRI that allows the patient to be in various different positions, including weight bearing positions. If you would prefer an open MRI please filter by MRI type to find an open MRI near you, but please be aware it is only available at certain locations.

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