The Shoulder

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 is passed through the body to produce a picture called a radiograph. An X-ray is useful for diagnosing fractures or other problems of the bones. Soft tissues, such as muscles and tendons, do not show up on X-rays.

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 is passed through the shoulder.

An arthrogram is a diagnostic record that can be seen on an X-ray after the injection of a contrast fluid into the shoulder joint to outline structures such as the rotator cuff. If there is disease or an injury present, this contrast fluid may either leak into an area where it does not belong, indicating a tear or opening, or be blocked from entering an area where there normally is an opening.

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 high-quality picture of the interior structures of the shoulder. Ultrasound technology is particularly accurate in the diagnosis of rotator cuff injuries.