For both acute injuries and chronic disease processes affecting the musculoskeletal system, x-ray is a mainstay for diagnostic imaging since it is fast and cost-effective. Ultrasound is less commonly used for the diagnosis of musculoskeletal problems, but is an important adjunctive tool to diagnose problems not found on x-ray and when MRI is not available.
Less Problematic For Patients
A problem associated with both x-ray and MRI is moving patients to radiology for testing. In the case of x-ray, patients often have to manipulate the affected area and lie still to achieve a suitable image. Not only is this cumbersome, but it can be extremely painful if there is a broken bone or significant soft tissue injury. Similarly, MRI requires the patient to remain still for long periods to obtain a clear image. Some patients experience significant distress in MRI machines if they are claustrophobic or scared of loud sounds. Ultrasound machines are portable and imaging of the affected area can be done at a patient's bedside, which may occur in the emergency department or other urgent care setting.
Movement Is Encouraged
In addition to the patient being more comfortable because they do not have to remain still, movement may also be encourage during an ultrasound. Some soft tissue injuries may be less apparent when a joint remains in one position. For example, a sagittal band tear may be less obvious when a patient's hand is flat on the table. Once the fingers are bent to form a fist, it may be easier to visualize the tear. During the ultrasound, the doctor or technician may ask the patient to move the affected area, such as extending and flexing the joint, to find small tears or instability in ligaments or tendons.
Identify Early Disease
Chronic inflammatory diseases affecting the musculoskeletal system, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may take years to appear on x-ray. This can lengthen the time to an appropriate diagnosis if doctors are unsure based on blood work and other symptoms. Additionally, a lack of evidence of bone erosions and soft tissue damage can lead to a false belief a current therapy is effective at slowing the progression of the disease. Ultrasound is better at identifying early joint and soft tissue damage than x-ray, which can have a meaningful impact on treatment for inflammatory arthritis. With this information, a doctor may decide to try more aggressive treatment options to possibly delay or prevent further damage.
Ultrasound is an often underutilized diagnostic tool for musculoskeletal problems. When combining ultrasound with x-rays, diagnoses can be made with less discomfort to patients and with more accuracy. For more information, contact companies like EVDI Medical Imaging.