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What Should I Expect from a Knee MRI?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A knee MRI is a medical imaging study performed to get a look at the inside of the knee. It can be used as a diagnostic tool when a doctor suspects that there is something wrong with the knee, or it can be used as a follow up procedure to see how well a patient is healing. Knowing what to expect can make the experience more pleasant, especially for younger patients.

Knee MRIs are performed as outpatient procedures. When the patient arrives at the hospital, she or he is asked to remove all metal objects, and may be asked to get into a hospital gown. Metal objects cannot be present in the MRI room because of the magnet inside the MRI machine. Patients who have medical implants should disclose them to their doctors before getting an MRI, in case there is a risk.

Once the patient is ready, she or he is helped onto an MRI table, and pillows are used to brace the knee and hold it in place. If the hospital has an open MRI machine, it will often be used for a knee MRI for patient comfort. If the MRI machine is closed, the MRI table will slide inside the machine before it starts. During the MRI itself, the machine tends to generate very loud noises, and patients are often issued with headphones. Many hospitals provide patients with music to listen to so that they can relax.

The knee MRI can take 30 minutes to an hour. It is important to stay still during this period. Patients who know that they will have trouble lying down may ask if they can take a sedative or a drug for pain management. Sedatives may also be offered if a patient experiences claustrophobia, so that the patient will be able to relax inside the MRI room.

If the image is clear, the results of the MRI will be made available to the patient very soon, and the doctor will talk about the implications of the results and possible treatment options. Sometimes, the image is not totally clear, and a doctor may ask that an MRI with contrast be performed. In a contrast knee MRI, a contrast dye is injected. When the MRI is performed, the dye will highlight various areas of the joint. Before contrast is injected, the patient should review her or his allergies, to confirm that it will be safe to use contrast.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon970992 — On Sep 22, 2014

I'm claustrophobic and have had many MRI scans. For a knee MRI, you won't even go into the tunnel. I've had several. I'm due for another two next month in a different area and I'm having IV sedation. -- Sue

By anon927446 — On Jan 24, 2014

I may have a torn ACL, so the doctor has sent me in for an emergency MRI to be sure. We will find out in a few weeks and I am very nervous! Is it just me or do those things look like coffins? I am only 14 and if I do have a torn ACL, it will require surgery. It's nerve wracking, I can tell you. This article did help me understand what will happen though. Thank you!

By anon339757 — On Jun 26, 2013

My daughter is seven years old and hurt her knee on a bouncy castle, and she needs an MRI. The hospital advised me children usually have a play session to learn what is going to happen to them, but as it's short notice and needs to be done straight away, this will not happen, so this advice has helped me to explain to her what will happen and what to expect.

By EarlyForest — On Dec 31, 2010

Thank you very much for this article. My daughter is going in for an MRI next month because she has been having a lot of pain in her knee after she fell a few weeks ago, and she was really scared about it.

Of course, to be honest, I would be too because those huge machines always look like coffins to me, but of course I couldn't tell her that, so I was looking for more information about the procedure to reassure her.

This article was really nice because it laid out the whole thing in very simple, concrete terms that are easy to explain to anyone -- even my 10 year old.

So thanks for that, wisegeek -- keep your fingers crossed for her procedure!

By Planch — On Dec 29, 2010

I once had to have an MRI scan for a knee injury, and I can tell you, the hardest part about it staying still for that long!

I'm not claustrophobic or anything, so that part was fine, although of course the magnets do make a really loud noise. With the headphones though, that was fine too.

It was really the staying still that got to me though. It's kind of like how you can sit still reading a book for hours, but then if someone tells you that you have to sit still, then you get the irrepressible urge to move -- or worse, it seems like as soon as you get still you have an itch somewhere.

And of course, silly me, thinking that it would be no big deal, didn't ask for a sedative or anything.

Well, the whole thing went fine, but I can tell you, it felt like that was the longest hour of my life -- and I'm not a super-active person to begin with. I can't even imagine if a child had to stay still for that long. I could barely do it and I'm a 30 year old programmer who sits still all day!

So take my word for it -- take the sedative.

By CopperPipe — On Dec 28, 2010

Nice article! I am scheduled to go in for a jumper's knee MRI in a few weeks, and I was a little freaked out about it, because the MRI machines are so huge, it just looks really scary. I was really worried about getting claustrophobic, actually, since I heard that the magnets are "clunking" like two inches away from your face.

I'm really glad that you detailed the procedure for me like this. It really eased my mind -- now I feel much more prepared for the whole thing.


Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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