It’s Not Just for Babies Anymore
By Annette M. Zaharoff, MD
Most people are familiar with the use of ultrasound as an imaging tool during pregnancy. In recent years, however, the use of ultrasound has become widely used to diagnose injuries in the field of sports medicine. During the recent 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, several studies were performed highlighting the use of musculoskeletal ultrasound in the field of sports medicine. Olympic, professional, and recreational athletes as well as weekend warriors are benefitting from musculoskeletal ultrasound imaging to diagnose their aches and pains.
Diagnostic medical ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of organs and structures inside the body. Ultrasound images are called sonograms. In sports medicine, diagnostic ultrasound may be used to diagnose injuries such as muscle tears, rotator cuff tendinitis, tennis elbow, ankle sprains and other soft tissue problems. Wrist, hand, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle and foot problems may all be assessed. Unlike many other imaging procedures, ultrasound does not involve ionizing radiation like x-rays. An instrument called a transducer is placed against the body and a special gel helps transmit the sound waves. The sound waves then bounce off a structure and return to the transducer and are processed by a computer to create images that are displayed on a monitor.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF ULTRASOUND IMAGING?
Ultrasound scans can be done quickly and with little to no discomfort for the patient. Since the test is readily available and at a lower cost relative to MRI testing, serial sonography is a practical means to evaluate the rate and stage of healing to reduce the risk of re-injury. Ultrasound imaging has been shown to be 90 percent accurate in evaluating various soft tissues structures. While ultrasound is limited to a certain depth of scanning and provides minimal information about bony injuries, it remains very a practical tool to assess soft tissue injuries.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS AND BENEFITS?
• Ultrasound scanning is noninvasive (no needles or injections) and is usually painless.
• Ultrasound is widely available, easy-to-use and less expensive than other imaging methods.
• Ultrasound imaging uses no ionizing radiation.
• Ultrasound scanning gives a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show up well on x-ray images.
• Ultrasound causes no health problems and may be repeated as often as is necessary if medically indicated.
• Ultrasound provides real-time imaging, making it a good tool for guiding minimally invasive procedures such as needle biopsies and needle aspiration of fluid in joints or elsewhere and performing ultrasound guided injections for tendons and joints.
• Unlike the strong magnetic field of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound is not affected by cardiac pacemakers, ferromagnetic implants or fragments within the body. Ultrasound is also an excellent alternative to MRI for claustrophobic patients.
• Ultrasound may actually have advantages over MRI in seeing tendon structure, which is better appreciated by ultrasound than MRI. Risks For standard diagnostic ultrasound there are no known harmful effects on humans.
The use of diagnostic ultrasound has expanded beyond babies and may be just what the doctor ordered the next time you overdo your activities.
More information about the use of diagnostic ultrasound may be found at: www.med.umich.edu/rad/muscskel/mskus or visit my Web site at www.drZmd.com