PsA imaging tests


Imaging tests look inside your body so that doctors can see if you have any signs of psoriatic arthritis (PsA) such as joint or tissue damage. Imaging tests may be used to help diagnose PsA and to monitor your condition over time.


What do Imaging Tests Look for?

Imaging tests look for signs of bone erosion (loss of bone in the joint), inflammation and swelling, tissue damage and overall joint damage. 

Imaging tests can show where joint damage is occurring. Joint damage is a major concern as it can be irreversible. Imaging tests can identify this early on so that treatment can begin to prevent or slow further damage to the joint. Treatment is more effective when started in the early stages of the disease.

If your doctor can’t find signs of joint damage, it doesn’t mean you don’t have PsA. Instead, it could mean that the disease is in its early stages and hasn’t yet caused any permanent bone damage.


Types of Imaging Tests

There are four main types of imaging tests used to diagnose and monitor PsA. These are:

  • X-ray
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound

Doctors may use one or a combination of tests to help diagnose PsA and monitor your condition over time.


X-rays are tests that allow doctors to see the bones and joints. They are the standard imaging test doctors use to assess joint damage in people with PsA. However, they aren’t very useful for finding early signs of PsA. This is because they only reveal damage after it occurs.


Ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the patient’s body. Unlike x-rays, ultrasounds do not emit any radiation.

Ultrasounds are better at showing early signs of joint inflammation and bone damage than x-rays. Ultrasounds are also useful in detecting disease progression. For example, if you show signs of remission, your treatments might be adjusted. But an ultrasound might show that you still have inflammation that needs further treatment.

The use of ultrasound to monitor joint damage in people with PsA is becoming more common.


An MRI scan can provide a more detailed image of soft and hard tissues.  X-rays mostly just look at bones, but MRIs can detect inflammation in the soft tissues like tendons and ligaments. This is why MRIs are more likely to pick up early signs of PsA than X-rays.


How Imaging Tests help diagnose PsA

Imaging tests on their own cannot reliably diagnose PsA. Your doctor will diagnose PsA based on your symptoms and medical history, a physical examination, and imaging and blood tests.


Does Medicare cover the cost?

Medicare does cover the cost of some imaging tests, but not at all. Each provider sets their own fee. Some providers do bulk bill, so you don’t have to pay anything. Sometimes you can claim back part of the fee.

You should talk to your doctor or service provider about the cost of imaging tests and whether Medicare will cover some or all the cost.

For more information visit HealthDirect or speak with your doctor.


This resource was developed based on the best available evidence. A full list of resources is available on request.