Our aim was to determine the clinical value of MRI and CT arthrography in predicting the presence of loose bodies in the elbow.
A series of 26 patients with mechanical symptoms in the elbow had plain radiography, MRI and CT arthrography, followed by routine arthroscopy of the elbow. The location and number of loose bodies determined by MRI and CT arthrography were recorded. Pre-operative plain radiography, MRI and CT arthrography were compared with arthroscopy.
Both MRI and CT arthrography had excellent sensitivity (92% to 100%) but low to moderate specificity (15% to 77%) in identifying posteriorly-based loose bodies. Neither MRI nor CT arthrography was consistently sensitive (46% to 91%) or specific (13% to 73%) in predicting the presence or absence of loose bodies anteriorly. The overall sensitivity for the detection of loose bodies in either compartment was 88% to 100% and the specificity 20% to 70%. Pre-operative radiography had a similar sensitivity and specificity of 84% and 71%, respectively.
Our results suggest that neither CT arthrography nor MRI is reliable or accurate enough to be any more effective than plain radiography alone in patients presenting with mechanical symptoms in the elbow.