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Are MRIs used to diagnose osteoarthritis?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

We know those noisy, slow, and even claustrophobic MRIs can be almost as painful as your joints, but sometimes are necessary to diagnose osteoarthritis and its extent. X-rays only show the bones, not the soft tissue around them. Since MRIs show the soft tissue and the bone, they can be useful for seeing any changes to the area around a potentially arthritic joint. The MRI can also show tiny bone or cartilage fragments in the joint that might not show up on an x-ray. So all in all, despite the noise and the claustrophobia, an MRI might be very important to help you.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is sometimes used in addition to x-rays to diagnose osteoarthritis. Unlike x-rays, which focus on the bones, MRIs create a picture of the soft tissue of the joint as well as the bones around it. An MRI can better show cartilage loss and other changes to the soft tissue around the joint caused by osteoarthritis. The MRI can also capture tiny bone or cartilage fragments in the joint that might not be visible on an x-ray.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is sometimes used to diagnose osteoarthritis (OA). The images from an MRI are amazingly detailed and sharp, so your doctor can get a really good look at the bones, cartilage and soft tissue of the painful joint. On the other hand, MRIs are expensive and noisy, which makes for an unpleasant patient experience. Unless your doctor feels he or she needs a detailed look at your aching joint, an MRI isn't usually necessary to diagnose OA. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.