Pearls and pitfalls of magnetic resonance imaging of the upper extremity

Mark W. Strudwick*, Suzanne E. Anderson, Simon Dimmick, Matthew D. Saltzman, Wellington K. Hsu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is capable of producing images in any anatomical plane, visualizing and analyzing a variety of tissue characteristics, as well as quantifying blood flow and metabolic functions. Although MRI details of compact bone and calcium are poor when compared to those taken with plain radiography or computed tomography, its high soft tissue contrast discrimination and multiplanar imaging capabilities are significant advantages. Musculoskeletal anatomy and neurovascular bundles are well delineated. The advent of MRI has revolutionized the clinician's ability to confirm a proper diagnosis for musculoskeletal problems, which has led to more directed, specific rehabilitative protocols. However, the value of MRI to rehabilitative professionals has been even greater in its ability to identify serious, more uncommon pathologies, such as in those with underlying infection, fracture, or tumor, that require immediate care and are considered to be beyond their scope of practice. Furthermore, MRI, with its precise delineation of fat, muscle, and bone, is an ideal candidate for imaging of muscle disease or injury and has emerged as the method of choice for the detection of early cartilage wear in young patients, such as osteoarthritis. Finally, this imaging modality can avoid radiation exposure in a predominantly younger patient cohort commonly affected by musculoskeletal diseases. The aim of this paper is to consider how physical therapists may take advantage of the diagnostic value of MRI of the upper limb, while avoiding the pitfalls of misinterpretation of images as a result of technical issues, pathological changes, or normal variants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)861-872
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • MRI
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Radiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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