Shoulder CT Scan

Written by Brian Krans | Published on July 16, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Shoulder CT Scan

A shoulder computed tomography (CT) scan creates cross-sectional images of the shoulder using specialized X-ray cameras. A shoulder CT scan can help doctors see the bones and soft tissues in the shoulder in order to detect abnormalities. The CT scan may also help identify tumors and blood clots.

A CT scan is also referred to as a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan. A CT scan can be performed without or with contrast dye. This contrast material helps the doctor who analyzes the films identify important vessels and structures, and makes it possible to identify abnormalities that cannot be seen without the dye.

Why a Shoulder CT Scan Is Performed

The most common reason a shoulder CT scan is performed is to evaluate the shoulder after an injury. This could be a one-time injury or a recurring one, such as the shoulder repeatedly popping out of its socket (dislocating).

Your doctor may use a shoulder CT scan to:

  • identify blood clots
  • identify masses or tumors
  • identify infections
  • identify tears to muscles, tendons, or ligaments
  • identify inflammation of the joint
  • diagnose injuries following trauma, such as a dislocation or fracture
  • make pre-surgery plans
  • determine the course of treatment for your injury

Your doctor may simply order a shoulder CT scan to help identify problems with the shoulder joint, such as pain, stiffness, or clicking noises.

Risks of a Shoulder CT Scan

A shoulder CT scan carries very few risks.

However, the contrast dye used in the procedure can cause an allergic reaction or kidney problems. This risk is higher if your kidneys have already been damaged by disease or infection. Newer dyes pose much less risk to the kidneys.

As with any X-ray, there is some exposure to radiation. The radiation levels used in an X-ray test are considered safe for adults, but not for a developing fetus. So, tell your doctor if you are pregnant or believe you could be pregnant.

How to Prepare for a Shoulder CT Scan

Because the test is noninvasive, preparation for a CT scan doesn’t require much effort on the patient’s part.

You’ll want to wear loose, comfortable clothing because you will be required to lie down on a table. You’ll also be instructed to remove any jewelry and other metallic items from your body. (UCSF)

How a Shoulder CT Scan Is Performed

A CT scan is performed in a hospital’s radiology department or a clinic that specializes in diagnostic procedures. Once you have removed your jewelry and are in a hospital gown, a CT technician will have you lie down on a bench.

If you’re using contrast dye, you will receive an IV. This involves inserting a needle into your arm so the contrast dye can be injected into your veins. Pain is minimal—no greater than when your blood is drawn.

The technician may ask you to lie in a specific position during the test. He or she may use pillows or straps to ensure that you stay in the correct position long enough to get a quality image. You may also need to hold your breath during brief individual scans to prevent blurring of the images.

The technician will move the table—via remote from a separate room—into the CT machine, which looks like a giant donut made of plastic and metal. The machine will rotate around you as the table moves back and forth through the hole.

After a round of scans, you may be required to wait while the technician reviews the images to ensure they are clear enough so that your doctor can read them correctly.

When the scans are complete, you’ll be able to change into your regular clothes and go about your day.

A typical CT scan takes between 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

After a Shoulder CT Scan

Results from a shoulder CT scan typically take a day to process. Your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss the results of your CT scan and tell you how to proceed, depending on the findings.

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Thank you.

Your message has been sent.

We're sorry, an error occurred.

We are unable to collect your feedback at this time. However, your feedback is important to us. Please try again later.

Article Sources:

More on Healthline

Migraine vs. Chronic Migraine: What Are the Differences?
Migraine vs. Chronic Migraine: What Are the Differences?
There is not just one type of migraine. Chronic migraine is one subtype of migraine. Understand what sets these two conditions apart.
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
From first exposure to life-threatening complications, learn how quickly an allergy attack can escalate and why it can become life threatening.
Numbness, Muscle Pain and Other RA Symptoms
Numbness, Muscle Pain and Other RA Symptoms
The symptoms of RA are more than just joint pain and stiffness. Common symptoms include loss of feeling, muscle pain, and more. Learn more in this slideshow.
Beyond Back Pain: 5 Warning Signs of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Beyond Back Pain: 5 Warning Signs of Ankylosing Spondylitis
There are a number of potential causes of back pain, but one you might not know about is ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Find out five warning signs of AS in this slideshow.
Easy Ways to Conceal an Epinephrine Shot
Easy Ways to Conceal an Epinephrine Shot
Learn how to discreetly carry your epinephrine autoinjectors safely and discreetly. It’s easier than you think to keep your shots on hand when you’re on the go.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement