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APM Spine & Sports Physicians

Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

What is musculoskeletal ultrasound?

Musculoskeletal ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure (the skin is not pierced). It is used to assess structures such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and joints using high-frequency sound waves to create the images. It is based on the same principles as sonar used by ships, bats or fishermen with fish detectors. The technical term for ultrasound testing and recording is “sonography.”

How does ultrasound work?

Using a transducer (a small, hand-held device), ultrasonic sound waves are sent out at a frequency that is too high to be heard. By placing the transducer at certain locations and angles on your body, the ultrasonic sound waves move through your body tissues to the structures being examined. The sound waves are then reflected off the structures like an echo, and return to the transducer. The transducer then picks up the reflected waves, and the information is then converted into a computerized electronic picture.

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How is ultrasound used?

Musculoskeletal ultrasound (MSUS) is used to evaluate tears or inflammation of muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissues of the body. It is a real-time procedure; therefore, it is very helpful in seeing tendons and muscles as they move. This enables a more accurate evaluation and diagnosis of musculoskeletal problems from illness and/or injury.

The MSUS also helps your APM physician perform non-invasive procedures, such as guiding injections of pain medicine or steroids into very precise locations.

Why is a musculoskeletal ultrasound important after an injury?

The use of the MSUS helps to objectively diagnose the presence of soft tissue injuries as well as, the ability to identify structural damage that may be the source of pain or weakness that could not otherwise be found on the physical exam alone.

Musculoskeletal soft tissue injuries usually do heal on their own within a 4 – 6 week period of time. Many times, however, pain and loss of function persists. MSUS is a way to determine why the injury has not healed. This can help identify the exact structural abnormality and provide for a more efficient course of treatment.

What should I expect during the procedure?

A conducting gel will be applied to your skin over the area being examined. The gel may feel slightly cold and wet. The transducer is then moved over the area being examined. You may be asked to change position so that other areas can be examined. Most examinations take less than 30 minutes.

What should I do to prepare for an ultrasound?

Preparation for ultrasound is minimal. The area being examined will need to be exposed. Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing. If a knee or ankle is being examined, please wear shorts. For a shoulder ultrasound exam, women should wear a sports bra or loose fitting tank top.

Are there any risks with this procedure?

There are no documented risks from the ultrasound itself. There is no ionizing radiation exposure involved.

If an injection is being performed under ultrasound guidance, the inherent risks of the injection itself (which should be explained by your physician) are actually lessened with the use of ultrasound as the physician can see the exact location of the needle.