MRI on the arm

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Jul 11, 2001
Could one single MRI provide information of all three areas of the left arm, the shoulder, elbow and wrist?

I haven't had an MRI since the one I had on my left shoulder, probably in 2002. That MRI didn't reveal much. I'd had xrays too. Cortisone shots did not provide relief from my pain and the doctor said I could elect for an arthroscopy, and he would inspect the joint for problems, in the process possibly cleaning up the joint as appropriate. He figured I'd be in a sling for 3 days or so, recovery something like a month.

When I woke up from the anesthetic they informed me that they found and fixed a labrum tear. I was in that sling for a month, the recovery was quite a few months with the aid of physical therapy and a regimen of stretches and exercises. He'd said he expected me to achieve a 100% recovery within a year.

I'm not sure I ever got to 100%, seriously doubt it, but the left shoulder was much better.

There was some concern in 2002 on my part just what the problem was, of course. I not only felt pain in the shoulder, I had pain lower in the arm, into the forearm, as I recall. The doctor (highly reputed!), said some of the pain in my arm was difficult to attribute to shoulder issues in that the nerve(s) involved did not pass through that part of the shoulder. So, he thought that neck vertebra caused nerve issue(s) might be involved there. Anyway, the operation revealed the labrum tear, I had my physical therapy, a followup appointment or two with the doctor and that was that. I continued with the stretches, exercises, and have done my routine workouts at my gym every other day since.

Lately the shoulder is flaring up, I'm in a fair amount of pain sometimes, having difficulty sleeping and in addition I have developed an elbow problem in the same arm. I have sharp pain on the inside of the elbow. Is it just referred pain from a shoulder issue? Possibly, but it absolutely feels like it's coming from the elbow! I also have a chronic problem with the left hand/wrist. Is that involved with another issue? Or is it also partly referred? Maybe.

So, I'm thinking that an MRI or several might help in diagnosing my problem(s) here. Could one single MRI provide information of all three areas of the left arm, the shoulder, elbow and wrist?

The doctor who operated on me in 2002 isn't available through my insurer, Kaiser Permanente. I called his office and he'd see me but it would be out of pocket, a charge of maybe $250, possibly as high as $500 (unlikely), and an xray would cost me ~$60, and MRI possibly in the $500 range. I think I'm going to see what Kaiser can do, I do have a recommendation from a guy I encountered in the gym for a Kaiser shoulder guy out in the suburbs, I may see if I can see him.

What I'm also considering is switching insurers. I'm on Kaiser's Medicare Senior Advantage plan. The Medicare open enrollment period just started a couple of days ago and I can switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan for the next 6 weeks or so. I could switch to a plan that would cover me with the surgeon who operated on me in 2002, who has a tremendous reputation. I'd prefer to see him than roll the dice with Kaiser Permanente. I was told a year or so ago IIRC is that I could return to Kaiser at the next open enrollment, that the law provides for that.

Thanks for info, advice, clarifications, etc.!
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Diamond Member
Oct 10, 1999
Medicare advantage sucks.

Anyhow, if the MRI you had in the past was of the shoulder, then that's all it will show. The anatomy is complicated, and nerves go from c-spine through brachial plexus and down your arm. If neuropathic, could come from a number of sources.

Most likely, though, a good orthopedist can be pretty certain based on history and phyiscal examination where the pathology is, and imaging would only be confirmatory.

You might want to see a covered orthopedist and then pay out of pocket to your preferred provider for a second opinion. If the original doc gets imaging, you can request a copy to bring to your orthopedist.
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