Magnetic resonance imaging of musculoskeletal infections

Jennifer S. Weaver, Imran M. Omar, Winnie A. Mar, Andrea S. Klauser, Blair A. Winegar, Gary W. Mlady, Wendy E. McCurdy, Mihra S. Taljanovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful imaging modality in the evaluation of musculoskeletal (MSK) soft tissue, joint, and bone infections. It allows prompt diagnosis and assessment of the extent of disease, which permits timely treatment to optimize long-term clinical outcomes. MRI is highly sensitive and specific in detecting the common findings of MSK infections, such as superficial and deep soft tissue oedema, joint, bursal and tendon sheath effusions, lymphadenopathy, bone marrow oedema, erosive bone changes and periostitis, and bone and cartilage destruction and sequestration. Contrast-enhanced MRI allows detection of non-enhancing fluid collections and necrotic tissues, rim-enhancing abscesses, heterogeneously or diffusely enhancing phlegmons, and enhancing active synovitis. Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) is useful in detecting soft-tissue abscesses, particularly in patients who cannot receive gadolinium-based intravenous contrast. MRI is less sensitive than computed tomography (CT) in detecting soft-tissue gas. This article describes the pathophysiology of pyogenic MSK infections, including the route of contamination and common causative organisms, typical MR imaging findings of various soft tissue infections including cellulitis, superficial and deep fasciitis and necrotizing fasciitis, pyomyositis, infectious bursitis, infectious tenosynovitis, and infectious lymphadenitis, and of joint and bone infections including septic arthritis and osteomyelitis (acute, subacute, and chronic). The authors also discuss MRI findings and pitfalls related to infected hardware and diabetic foot infections, and briefly review standards of treatment of various pyogenic MSK infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e141-e162
JournalPolish Journal of Radiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • MRI
  • cellulitis
  • fasciitis
  • osteomyelitis
  • pyomyositis
  • septic arthritis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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