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The first 3 T MRI systems were introduced to clinical practice over a decade ago, and access to these systems has become increasingly available worldwide. Although they were first used for neurological imaging, several studies have demonstrated the abilities and potential advantages of 3 T systems over conventional 1.5 T systems for musculoskeletal disorders, including for their use in sports medicine.1 ,2 The introduction of 3 T MRI generated great expectations in the field, with hope for marked improvement in the diagnosis of musculoskeletal disorders.3
What does ‘3T’ mean for a clinician? Why should I care?
Tesla units are used to quantify the strength of a magnet field. In comparison to 1.5 T systems, 3 T MRI is characterised by increased MR signal with relatively less increase in background noise—thus having a higher signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).3 This advantage can be used to either decrease scanning time or improve spatial resolution. The increase in scan speed means increased patient comfort and throughput; increased resolution, especially in combination with surface coils, may prove advantageous for the visualisation of small structures such as the ligaments of the wrist or ankle.4
While several studies have shown similar or slightly increased diagnostic performance when using 3 T systems over 1.5 T in joint imaging using arthroscopy as a gold standard,1 ,5 ,6 there are no studies using the clinical gold standard of “How often has 3 T changed my treatment decision compared to 1.5 T MRI?” (figure 1).
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