What is a diagnostic ultrasound?
Ultrasound is safe and painless, and produces pictures of the inside of the body using sound waves. Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or sonography, involves the use of a small transducer (probe) and ultrasound gel placed directly on the skin. High-frequency sound waves are transmitted from the probe through the gel into the body. The transducer collects the sounds that bounce back and a computer then uses those sound waves to create an image. Ultrasound examinations do not use ionizing radiation (as used in x-rays), thus there is no radiation exposure to the patient. Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body's muscles, tendons, and nerves.
Ultrasound images of the musculoskeletal system provide pictures of muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and soft tissue throughout the body. There are no known risk to the procedure.
Ultrasound images are typically used to help diagnose:
- Tendon tears or tendinitis of the rotator cuff in the shoulder, Achilles tendon in the ankle and other tendons throughout the body.
- Muscle tears, masses or fluid collections.
- Ligament sprains or tears.
- Inflammation or fluid (effusions) within the bursa and joints.
- Nerve entrapments such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Ganglion cysts.
Ultrasound offers several advantages over other imaging modalities:
- Ultrasound scanning gives a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show up well on x-ray images.
- Ultrasound provides real-time imaging, making it a good tool for guiding minimally invasive procedures such as injections and fluid aspiration.
- Patients with cardiac pacemakers and certain types of metallic implants or fragments in the body cannot be safely exposed to the strong magnetic field required for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); however, patients can safely receive ultrasound imaging.
- Ultrasound is also an excellent alternative to MRI for claustrophobic patients.
- Compared to MRI, ultrasound may provide greater internal detail when assessing soft tissue structures such as tendons and nerves.
- Because ultrasound images are captured in real time, they can show the movement of a soft tissue structure such as a tendon, joint or an extremity. Ultrasound imaging is faster and cheaper than MRI and does not require the patient to remain completely still.
Musculoskeletal ultrasound is highly operator dependant and requires extensive training for accurate interpretation. There are only a limited number of facilities in the U.S. that offer musculoskeletal ultrasound. At Adirondack Rehabilitation Medicine we employ physicians who are board certified in musculoskeletal ultrasound.