Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has advanced our ability to see tissues inside the body without having to perform surgery. This form of imaging uses a magnetic field and radio waves to form highly detailed images of the body’s organs and soft tissues. In many cases, a basic MRI can confirm a diagnosis and direct the best treatment plan.

“MRI produces high-resolution images of the body to help doctors diagnose a variety of conditions.”


For orthopaedic surgeons, MRIs can help examine many structures of the body, such as bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, joints, and cartilage. They are often used to examine shoulders, knees, and spines as well as many other body parts. MRIs can reveal broken bones, swelling, inflammation, tissue tears, muscle injuries, tendon injuries, bleeding, tumors, and infections.

An MRI allows your doctor to examine your tissues and organs in a non-invasive way. MRI produces very high-resolution images of your body to help doctors diagnose a variety of conditions. Dr. Romeo often uses MRI to diagnose rotator cuff tears and shoulder instability.

How an MRI is performed

An MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer. These work together to produce detailed, cross-sectional images of the body part being scanned. The scanner is usually in the shape of a large tube, with a table in the middle that allows the person to slide inside. Magnets are used during the test, so it’s important that there are no metal objects present in the scanner. If you are wearing jewelry or other metal accessories that may interfere with the machine, you will be asked to remove them before the MRI.

If you are claustrophobic and feel anxious or nervous in enclosed spaces, let your doctor know. You may be given medication before the MRI that will help make the procedure more comfortable. Some people may receive an injection of contrast liquid in a vein or joint before their MRI. This liquid improves the visibility of tissues. For example, having the radiologist place dye in the shoulder (arthrogram) before the MRI can help improve the accuracy of the MRI. This may be particularly useful when the effects of prior surgery for a labrum, cartilage, or rotator cuff problem can alter findings on the standard non-contrast MRI.

Before your MRI, the radiologist (a doctor that specializes in medical imaging tests) will administer a questionnaire, give you instructions for the MRI scanning process, and answer any questions you may have. You will be helped onto the scanner table and lie down. You will be given blankets or cushions to ensure that you’re comfortable, as well as earplugs or headphones to block out the loud noise of the scanner.

Once you’re positioned inside the scanner, the MRI technician will talk to you through an intercom to make sure that you’re comfortable. During the MRI, it’s important to stay as still as possible to prevent blurriness and avoid disrupting the images. You will hear loud clanging noises coming from the scanner, which is completely normal. An MRI can take anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes.

After the scan is complete, the radiologist will look at the images to check if there will be any other images required. There is incredible variation in the type of MRI machines that are used, the method or sequences that are used at the time of the study, and the experience of the person reading the MRI images. Dr. Romeo will not accept the MRI report without the actual films, which he reviews himself. After the MRI, you will be asked to make an appointment with Dr. Romeo to go over the results. 

The key to maximizing the value of an MRI is to compare the results to the history of injury or illness, physical examination, and x-rays. This helps provide the most accurate diagnosis and best treatment plan possible.

“An MRI is performed with a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer. These work together to produce highly detailed, cross-sectional images of the body part being scanned.”


How high is the quality of MRI images?

If done properly, an MRI is extremely valuable for diagnosis and treatment. But even though MRI is used frequently to assess many parts of the body, the quality can vary greatly from scan to scan. The doctors who read the scans can also differ in skill level. If you have had an MRI done in the past, Dr. Romeo may need to order a new one with specific instructions to ensure that you are getting the full benefit of the test.

What are the risks of MRI?

There is very little risk associated with MRI. Some people may experience an allergic reaction to the contrast dye given before the MRI; however, this is normally mild. The doctor may also need to measure your kidney function before giving you contrast dye. People with claustrophobia may experience some difficulty while lying in the scanner, but the staff will do everything possible to ensure that they are comfortable. 

Everyone is checked before having an MRI for medical implants and devices, previous surgeries, and a history of working with metal (i.e., welding). X-rays done before an MRI can make sure there are no metal fragments in a person’s body. People with aneurysm clips, pacemakers/ICDs, and electronic implants will need to consult a radiologist before they have an MRI, as some devices are not compatible with MRI machines. Tattoos and permanent makeup may also be at risk for heating or burns, so cold compresses are usually applied to these areas.

For more information about MRI, please request an appointment with experienced Chicago orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Romeo. Call or email our office today to schedule your visit.

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