About MRI scan of the elbow

MRI scan of the elbow helps with high-resolution evaluation of joints and soft-tissue structures (such as ligaments, tendons, nerves, and muscles). The elbow is a complex joint and most commonly is injured in athletes, so in most cases, the evaluation by MRI is a critical part of the successful medical diagnosis.

Cost of elbow MRI scan

The price depends on whether you are doing this at a hospital or an outpatient imaging center and whether you use your insurance or not:

  • MRI cost of the elbow scan a research hospital (high-deductible patient) $2,000 – $4,000
  • MRI cost of the elbow scan at a research hospital (fully insured patient with a 15% copay): $2,000 – $4,000 billing & $300 – $600 copay
  • MRI cost of the elbow scan at the outpatient clinic  (fully insured patient with co-pay) $1,000 – $3,000 billing & $150 – $300 copay
  • MRI cost of the elbow scan at the outpatient clinic with payment in cash: $250-$350

How is the MRI of the elbow performed?

During the examination, you will be imaged laying on your back (supine position) or laying on your belly (prone position) with the arm overhead. In the supine position you are imaged with the arm placed at the side, which is usually relatively comfortable. However, the elbow is not within the center of the magnetic bore, which can result in nonuniform fat suppression. In obese patients may this cause insufficient room within the magnetic bore to place the limb at the side. Alternatively, you can also be imaged in a prone position with the arm extended over the head (the so-called ‘‘superman’’ position). Imaging begins about 10 cm above the elbow joint.

What can be the cause of my problem?

Do you feel any pain in your elbow? Is your joint inflammed? Can you feel some lump or mass? Is the physical activity difficult for you? Did you noticed any limitations of the movement of your joint?

When searching for the cause of your problem, the doctor may be considering one of these:

  • arthritis and other degenerative joint disorders
  • bone fractures
  • damaged cartilage, ligaments, tendons, or meniscus
  • decreased motion of the joint
  • fluid collection
  • inflammation
  • infection
  • sports- or trauma-related injury
  • tumor

Elbow MRI scan with contrast

In case of suspected elbow mass lesion or infection, an intravenous gadolinium-based contrast agent may be given to you. This special form of MRI is called an MR arthrogram. A mixture of contrast agent and saline would be injected into the elbow joint within MRI examination. More about contrast agents you can read here.

In some centers, you may be examined in the MRI machine, specially designed for extremities. Do you want to know what does the Extremity MRI look like and why it may be more suitable for you? Read more.

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