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Ultrasound imaging enables physicians to see their patients’ anatomy in real time for diagnosing an injury or placing an injection with great accuracy. 

What is ultrasound (US) imaging? 

Ultrasound is also called ultrasound scanning or sonography, which is a method of seeing inside the human body through the use of high-frequency sound waves.  The sound waves are recorded and displayed as a real-time visual image.  It is possible for tendons to be dynamically seen to glide, joints to move, or for ligaments to be visualized under stress with ultrasonic testing.  No radiation is involved in ultrasound scanning. 

Using ultrasound as a diagnostic tool in place of MRI:

If a patient’s history and clinical tests raise suspicions of a soft tissue injury, patients are often sent for an MRI.  MRI’s provide detailed information, but are expensive and require preauthorization from most insurers.  Patients must wait for the MRI preauthorization, schedule a test, and then return to the office for a discussion with their physician to review the results, delaying the diagnosis.

Musculoskeletal ultrasound is another way for an orthopaedic provider to look at soft tissue injuries without the cost and additional time required to obtain a MRI.  The specific location of swelling and the health of tissues as visualized through the ultrasound images can play an important role in identifying exactly what might be the cause of pain or dysfunction in an extremity.  But that is not all ultrasound is used for in orthopaedics.

Using ultrasound for needle guidance:

Ultrasound imaging is a precise way to guide injections into many joints or soft tissue structures in the body.  Studies in orthopaedic journals have indicated that orthopaedic physicians are more accurate with their injections when the injection is guided by ultrasound.  The needle used to give injections is visible within the real-time image created by ultrasound.  This allows the needle to be directed exactly into the location identified as the source of pain to deliver medications.

A great example of how this technology benefits patients can be found in a patient with hip pain.  The hip joint is deep and injections into this area have traditionally required fluoroscopic X-ray with its radiation exposure.  Today ultrasound has made hip injections possible in the office.  Patients needing an injection are no longer inconvenienced with having to make an appointment elsewhere for the procedure.  Once the need is identified, the injection can be made with great accuracy and timeliness.