Cracking the Code

Coding Arthrocentesis

Arthrocentesis can be found in the musculoskeletal section of the CPT code book in the 20600–20611 series. It is a procedure performed to collect synovial fluid from joint spaces for the identification of a disease process or the relief of painful or bothersome symptoms. Fluids are removed for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Injections reduce pain and inflammation in a joint, tendon, or bursa. It is used in multiple disease processes, including arthritis, gout, and infectious processes such as septic arthritis.


A ganglion cyst is a type of tumor usually located in a joint capsule or tendon sheath. Codes 20604, 20606, and 20611 are with ultrasound guidance, the other codes in this range are without ultrasound guidance. Code 20612 is for the aspiration of the cyst and/or injection of an anti-inflammatory substance, which often relieves the symptoms without surgery.

Q: The patient came to the office for a therapeutic injection, in the left shoulder subacromial space. What procedure code is reported?
A: 20610 Rationale: Code 20610 Arthrocentesis, aspiration and/or injection; major joint or bursa (e.g., shoulder, hip, knee, subacromial bursa), without ultrasound guidance indicates that the arthrocentesis is for aspiration and/or injection. The drug used in the injection (usually a steroid) is coded separately. Look in the CPT Index for Arthrocentesis/Large Joint.
Reference: FY 2023 CPT code book & guidelines
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