7 Things to Know About Arthrocentesis

  • 3D shoulder illustration with pain
    Prepare for your procedure with key facts on arthrocentesis.
    Arthrocentesis is the removal of the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints. Removing synovial fluid can help diagnose or treat a variety of joint diseases and conditions. Doctors most often perform arthrocentesis—or joint drainage—in the knee. But it can be useful for many joints, including the jaw, hip, shoulder and elbow. Get an overview of the procedure, including how it’s performed, the risks involved, and what to expect after.

  • syringe
    1. Doctors perform arthrocentesis with a needle and syringe.
    Your doctor may first numb the skin and underlying soft tissues around the joint. Then, they insert a needle into the joint and withdraw synovial fluid into a syringe. Sometimes, doctors offer light sedation for the procedure. When doctors must perform it on the jaw, deeper anesthesia may be necessary. Afterwards, the synovial fluid goes to a laboratory for testing.

  • holding knee
    2. Arthrocentesis is one way to diagnose certain joint problems.
    Doctors perform arthrocentesis when they suspect a disease or condition of a joint. This includes arthritis, gout, infection, joint damage, and autoimmune diseases. Sometimes, there is extra fluid on a joint and doctors don’t know what is causing it. They may recommend arthrocentesis to try to find the cause. Oral surgeons may use it manage some cases of TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders.

  • Older man with knee pain with doctor
    3. Arthrocentesis is also used to relieve symptoms.
    The goal of arthrocentesis is to either diagnose or treat a joint condition. Removing excess joint fluid can relieve symptoms, such as swelling, pain and pressure. Doctors can also test the fluid to look for signs of disease, such as infection. This helps diagnose the specific cause of a joint problem. Sometimes, doctors will remove joint fluid and inject medications into the joint during the same procedure.

  • Microscope
    4. Lab tests look for signs of inflammation or infection in the joint fluid.
    Doctors send the joint fluid to a laboratory for analysis. The lab will look at the fluid under a microscope. Finding blood cells, crystals, or bacteria would be an abnormal result. The lab will also run chemical tests to look for signs of inflammation or infection. The lab may culture the joint fluid to see if any bacteria grow. Together, these tests give doctors information about the possible cause of a joint problem.

  • Doctor examining patient's leg
    5. Arthrocentesis has a low risk of complications.
    It isn’t common to have problems after an arthrocentesis. But any procedure involves risks and possible complications. For arthrocentesis, these include bleeding, infection, nerve injury, and return of joint pain. Your doctor will give you information about when to call or seek medical attention should you have any problems.

  • Woman icing injured arm
    6. Your joint may be sore for a day or two after arthrocentesis.
    In general, doctors recommend limiting use of the joint for a few hours after the procedure. Many people have mild soreness and tenderness afterwards. Applying ice packs and taking over-the-counter pain relievers for the first day or two can help reduce pain and swelling. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions for activity level and pain relief measures.

  • Surgery
    7. You have diagnostic and treatment options beyond arthrocentesis.
    Arthrocentesis is the least invasive way for doctors to find out what’s going on inside a joint. If arthrocentesis doesn’t provide an answer, arthroscopy may be the next step. Arthroscopy is minimally invasive surgery using instruments and a camera to see inside a joint. An advantage of arthroscopy is that doctors can often treat problems they find during the procedure.

  • portrait-of-man-smiling-outside
    8. Arthrocentesis is a quick procedure with minimal recovery time.
    Arthrocentesis is a useful tool to help doctors diagnose and treat joint problems. It can give nearly immediate symptom relief when excess joint fluid is causing pain and pressure. It also gives doctors valuable information for figuring out the cause of a joint problem. Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about the procedure.

7 Things to Know About Arthrocentesis
Joint Drainage

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Arthrocentesis (Joint Aspiration). Mount Sinai Hospital. http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/health-library/treatments-and-procedures/arthrocentesis
  2. Evaluation of the Patient with Joint Disorders. The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals.  http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal_and_connective_tissue_disorders/approach_to...
  3. Joint Aspiration (Arthrocentesis). Kids Health from Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/medical/arthrocentesis.html
  4. Knee Joint Aspiration and Injection. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/1015/p1497.html
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Last Review Date: 2018 Jun 18
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