The human musculoskeletal system is made up of hundreds of pieces – some of them very small – designed to work together to provide movement. When you stand up and walk across the room, you engaged hundreds of moving parts in the process. Ordering specific imaging procedures is a way physicians can get a better understanding of an injury or deformity. It's a chance to see the various pieces and figure out why something, say a knee, is not functioning well.
Unique imaging solutions like an MSK ultrasound provide painless but effective pictures of your bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons and cartilage. Radiologists can interpret what they see and give the surgeon or doctor information that helps them develop a care plan. An MSK ultrasound is an important diagnostic tool, but what does it do exactly?
What is an MSK Ultrasound?
An ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture. You might associate an ultrasound with having a baby. It is standard for an obstetrician to order one or more ultrasounds during pregnancy to see the fetus and monitoring its development.
An MSK ultrasound uses that same technology to obtain images of the musculoskeletal system. For example, if a patient suffered a shoulder injury playing football, the doctor would order an MSK ultrasound to see the structure of the joint and supportive tissue. The image would show a dislocation or tear in a critical ligament that attaches the muscle to the bone.
How Does an MSK Ultrasound Work?
The technician uses a small transducer, called a probe, to transmit high-frequency sound waves through the body. The probe catches the waves as they bounce off the bone or tissue and creates an image from them.
It's not like a photograph you get from a camera, though. The sound waves create an echo when they bounce off structures in the body. The ultrasound machine uses the echoes to calculate location and density of each individual component and then translates that data into an image in real-time, which means you see blood flowing and muscle movement as part of the picture.
What to Expect During an MSK Ultrasound?
The MSK ultrasound, like most forms of imaging, is painless and safe. There is no radiation or injections involved with it, either. Prior to the test, the technician may have you remove any jewelry that might interfere and may ask you to wear a gown depending on the location of your injury. The probe needs to touch bare skin to work effectively.
During the test, the technician will apply a gel to your skin. The probe uses the gel to send the sound waves smoothly and read them as the bounce back. All you need do is remain still during the test.
Why Order an MSK Ultrasound?
There are a number of advantages to the MSK ultrasound over other types of imaging, but, usually, the doctor will order multiple tests that complement one another. From example, you may get both an MRI and an MSK ultrasound for one injury.
The ultrasound offers a unique analysis of an injury, though. It allows the technician to capture an image easily from multiple views. This is especially helpful if the symptoms you experience are triggered or exasperated by movement. For example, maybe your shoulder doesn't hurt unless you move your arm forward. With an MSK ultrasound, the doctor can see what is happens to the joint at that exact moment. With other forms of imaging, you must remain still or the picture blurs, but ultrasound can capture that movement.
Through ultrasound technology, your doctor can visualize more intricate structures in the body to detect anomalies, too. Imaging tests like an MRI can miss the tiny details.
An MSK ultrasound offers patients some benefits, as well. The imaging is done in an open space, so it is a practical choice for patients who can't tolerate a traditional MRI.
When Would a Physician Order an MSK Ultrasound?
The MSK ultrasound is typically ordered to diagnose:
- Tears to ligaments, muscle and tendons
- Bleeding in muscles or joints
- Fluid buildup
- Soft tissue tumors
It is often used for sports-related injuries such as a rotator cuff tear. It is sometimes ordered if the doctor suspects a chronic problem like arthritis, as well. An ultrasound allows for early detection of arthritis, so you can take steps to slow down the progression of the disease.
The MSK ultrasound is a noninvasive test with no risk to you and it offers your doctor one of the best ways to visualize the problem and create a solution for it.