Joint & Soft tissue: Aspirations Information

What is a Joint or Soft tissue aspiration?

Joint aspiration is performed by using a thin needle to take some of the fluid out of the joint. This procedure, also known as arthrocentesis, is one of the most common procedures used for muscle and bone problems. It is mostly done at the knee or shoulder but a soft tissue haematoma may also indicate an aspiration.

When will a joint or soft tissue aspiration necessary?

If a joint is swollen, a sample of joint fluid (synovial fluid) can help to find the cause of swelling. A sample of the fluid may be tested to find out whether, for instance, it contains bacteria  or abnormally high levels of white blood cells.

In some cases, the excess fluid (effusion) causes pressure and pain. By removing some of the fluid during the aspiration will help to reduce pain and promote healing.

How is an aspiration performed?

Aspiration may also be used as a treatment, to reduce the pressure on the joint or soft tissue. The clinician uses the syringe to remove the excess fluid. If needed, medication can be injected into the joint during joint aspiration.

Special preparation is usually not needed. The surrounding skin is carefully disinfected beforehand to keep germs from entering the joint. The clinician wears sterile disposable gloves during the procedure to avoid any infection. Sterilized disposable cannulas and syringes are unpacked right before use.

The clinician can use diagnostic ultrasound to locate the position where the aspiration is required. Diagnostic ultrasound is sometimes used to monitor the entire procedure. A local anaesthetic may be used, if required.

A pressure bandage is often applied after the procedure. The joint itself usually needs to be kept still – how long will depend on the cause of the swelling and whether medication was injected during the aspiration.

Is it painful? 

Joint aspiration typically feels a bit like having blood drawn.

What happens after the procedure and what should I look out for?

Afterwards it is important to watch carefully for signs of inflammation. If the joint or puncture site are red, swollen or start feeling very warm, you should inform your clinician immediately. Other warning signs include fever and worsening pain.

What are the risks involved?

There may be bleeding in the joint or soft tissue, afterwards. Inflammation at the needle insertion site is possible. If medication is injected as well, it may cause a feeling of pressure or a short burning sensation. The medication might have side effects such as allergic reactions too. Anti-inflammatory drugs can lead to facial redness, increased blood pressure, a racing heartbeat and flushing.

The greatest risk is that of an infection caused by germs that have managed to get in. This risk varies depending on what is done during the aspiration and which joint is involved. Diabetes or a weakened immune system increase the risk of infection.

Where can I find out more before considering the procedure?

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