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Diagnostic Tests

There are a variety of diagnostic tests that your provider may order to determine the extent of your shoulder injury. Those tests may include:

During an x-ray, low-level radiation passes through the body to produce a picture called a radiograph. An x-ray is useful for diagnosing fractures or other problems of the bones.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a procedure that uses a powerful magnet linked to a computer to create pictures of areas inside the shoulder. During the procedure, your torso is placed in a cylindrical chamber where energy from a powerful magnet passes through the shoulder. In some cases, contrast fluid is injected into the shoulder joint to outline the structures. This is called an arthrogram.

An ultrasound is a noninvasive procedure in which a small, hand-held scanner is placed on the skin of the shoulder. Ultrasound waves are reflected off of the rotator cuff and other structures to form a picture of the interior structures of the shoulder. Ultrasound technology is particularly accurate in the diagnosis of rotator cuff injuries.

Arthroscopy is a surgical technique in which the provider manipulates a small, lighted camera called an arthroscope that has been inserted into the joint through a small incision. Images of the inside of the joint are projected onto a monitor. Arthroscopy is almost never used for diagnosis alone, but as a surgical treatment. Diagnostic arthroscopy is the first part of arthroscopic surgery.