Post By
Gateway Diagnostic Imaging

March 15, 2024

How does a knee MRI help my healthcare provider diagnose my knee pain?

Living with persistent knee pain can really change your quality of life. Knee pain can impact what you can do, where you can go, and how you get around.

When you told your healthcare provider about your knee pain, they probably recommended an MRI scan (or Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan) of your knee, which is an excellent way to diagnose the source of your pain.

An MRI gives your provider high-resolution images of your knee, making it ideal for finding the cause of knee pain, and for creating a plan to relieve your pain.

In this blog, we’ll help you understand how an MRI can be a pivotal tool in identifying the root cause of your knee pain, and we will show you what to expect from your knee MRI. 

What makes MRI scans a critical tool for diagnosing knee pain?

MRI scans stand out in the medical imaging field due to their exceptional ability to produce detailed and clear images of the body’s internal structures. 

Unlike other imaging techniques, MRIs use a combination of magnetic fields and radio waves to create comprehensive images of tissues, bones, and other structures within your knee. 

This makes MRI scans invaluable for diagnosing a wide range of knee problems, whether it may be ligament injuries, or issues with cartilage or the meniscus

The level of detail provided by an MRI can help your healthcare provider make an accurate diagnosis and tailor a treatment plan specific to your condition.

How does an MRI provide detailed images of my injured knee?

When you have a knee MRI, you’re placed within a machine that generates a powerful magnetic field around your knee. 

This field, combined with radio waves, creates signals that are captured and used to create detailed images of the inside of your knee. 

What makes MRI particularly good at imaging soft tissues is its sensitivity to differences in the water content of various tissues. This means it can distinguish between healthy and injured areas, showing even subtle injuries that might not be visible with other imaging methods.

Why might your healthcare provider recommend an MRI specifically for knee pain?

If your pain is persistent, unexplained, or not responding to initial treatments, an MRI can provide a clear picture of what’s happening inside your knee. 

It’s especially useful for diagnosing soft tissue injuries, such as tears in your ligaments, tendons, or cartilage, which are common sources of knee pain. 

Additionally, if you’ve had a previous injury and your knee hasn’t healed as expected, an MRI can help identify any underlying issues that might be contributing to your ongoing discomfort. 

In essence, an MRI offers a non-invasive, detailed view inside your knee, enabling your healthcare provider to diagnose the problem accurately and recommend the most effective treatment. 

Preparing for your knee MRI scan

Taking a little time to properly prepare for your knee MRI will likely give you more accurate results, save you some time, and help your provider to diagnose your knee pain.

Let’s look into a few simple things you can do to get the best results from your MRI scan, before we review what you can expect during your MRI.

What should I tell my healthcare provider before my knee MRI?

It’s important to inform them about any health conditions that could affect the safety or efficacy of the MRI. 

This includes but is not limited to, any history of heart disease, kidney problems, or allergies––especially if you’re allergic to contrast material, which might be used during your MRI. 

Also, if you have any implants like pacemakers, metal clips, or artificial joints, make sure your healthcare provider is aware, as these can influence the MRI process. 

What do I need to do to get ready for my knee MRI?

MRI scans are affected by metal, so you’ll need to remove any metallic items such as jewelry, watches, and glasses. You might also be asked to change into a gown to prevent any interference from zippers or buttons. 

It’s also a good idea to make sure and follow any specific instructions given by your healthcare team regarding eating or drinking before your knee scan.

If you’re prone to feeling anxious in enclosed spaces, sharing your concerns with your healthcare provider beforehand can help. They may offer advice on relaxation techniques or, in some cases, suggest a sedative to help you stay calm during the scan. 

Some people who experience a fear of enclosed spaces prefer a 3T wide-bore MRI machine. Check if your imaging center offers 3T wide-bore MRI scans, which would allow your body to go into the MRI knee first, rather than head first.

How long does a knee MRI take, and what will I experience during the scan?

A knee MRI typically takes between 20 to 60 minutes, depending on what your healthcare provider wants to investigate. 

During the scan, you’ll lie on a movable table that slides into the MRI machine. It’s crucial to stay as still as possible to ensure the clearest images are captured. 

You’ll hear a variety of sounds––from thumping to whirring––which are completely normal parts of the MRI process. Some facilities offer headphones or earplugs to help block out the noise, making the experience more comfortable. 

Although you’re inside the scanner, you’ll be able to communicate with the technician conducting the MRI through an intercom, ensuring you’re supported throughout the entire scanning process.

Low angle view of female therapist pointing at knee while male patient listens

Understanding the results of your knee MRI

After your MRI, an experienced radiologist will examine your MRI images, and create a report that your healthcare provider will review in order to diagnose your pain.

We want you to understand exactly how your provider will use your MRI images to diagnose the source of your pain, so let’s take a look at how it all works.

How do healthcare providers use MRI results to diagnose knee pain?

Healthcare providers review MRI results to get an in-depth look at the structures within your knee, including the bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and even the presence of any fluid. 

By examining these detailed pictures, they can identify abnormalities such as tears, degeneration, inflammation, or other potential reasons for knee pain. 

These images help to differentiate between healthy tissue and areas that may have been affected by injury or disease, helping your provider to diagnose the root cause of your knee pain, and to formulate your treatment plan.

What kinds of knee conditions can an MRI diagnose?

An MRI is remarkably effective at detecting tears in the cartilage between the thigh and shin bones, in ligaments (such as ACL and MCL injuries), and in tendons.

Also, a knee MRI is useful in identifying conditions like arthritis, which affects the joint, or bursitis, where fluid-filled sacs become inflamed. 

In cases of bone fractures, an MRI can show details that might not be visible in other forms of imaging. 

This is exactly what makes MRI an invaluable tool for diagnosing all kinds of knee-related issues.

How can MRI images help to distinguish between different types of knee problems?

One of the strengths of MRI imaging is its ability to provide contrast between different tissues, which is instrumental in distinguishing between various knee problems. 

For instance, soft tissue injuries might not be obvious on other imaging modalities, but an MRI can show them clearly. 

This level of detail allows healthcare providers to not only identify the presence of an abnormality but also its size, shape, and exact location. 

Understanding these nuances is key in helping your provider to choose the most effective treatment approach for you.

How a knee MRI shapes your treatment plan

An MRI scan can play a pivotal role in shaping the course of your treatment for knee pain, since the images are so detailed, which helps your provider know the precise source of your pain.

We’ll show you exactly how your doctor uses your MRI images to create a plan for helping your knee pain feel better.

How will my MRI results guide the treatment options for my knee pain?

Your MRI results offer a roadmap for deciding the best treatment approach for your knee pain. 

By identifying the specific structures within your knee that are injured or degenerated, your healthcare provider can determine whether you might benefit more from conservative treatments like physical therapy and medication or if surgical intervention is warranted. 

This tailored approach ensures  your treatment plan aligns closely with your specific diagnosis, supporting your chances for a successful outcome.

What are the possible next steps after receiving my MRI results?

Your healthcare provider will use your MRI results to guide these decisions, ensuring  your treatment plan aligns with your health needs and recovery goals.

If your MRI results reveal a condition that can be managed conservatively, you might be referred to a physical therapist, or prescribed medication to manage pain and inflammation. 

And if the MRI shows a more complex injury, then it may be time to talk with your healthcare provider about your options for surgery, the anticipated recovery process, and your potential outcomes.

In some cases, additional diagnostic tests might be needed to further refine your treatment plan. 

How can MRI results help to treat my knee pain over time?

Follow-up MRIs can be used to monitor the progress of your treatment, to assess the healing of operated tissues, and to identify any changes in your knee condition. 

This ongoing evaluation helps in adjusting your treatment plan as needed, whether it’s advancing your physical therapy regimen, or considering additional interventions. 

How to schedule your MRI with us

When you get your scan at one of our imaging centers, we’ll make sure you have access to affordable, high-quality medical imaging from specialized radiologists and certified technologists. 

Reach out to a Gateway imaging center near you, and schedule your MRI appointment, today.

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