What is Musculoskeletal Ultrasound Imaging?

Ultrasound imaging uses sound waves to produce pictures of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints throughout the body. It is used to help diagnose sprains, strains, tears and other soft tissue conditions. Ultrasound is safe, noninvasive and does not use ionizing radiation.

What are the common uses of musculoskeletal ultrasound?

Ultrasound images are typically used to help diagnose:

  • Tendon tears, or tendinitis of the rotator cuff in the shoulder, Achilles tendon in the ankle and other tendons throughout the body.
  • Muscle tears.
  • Ligament sprains or tears.
  • Inflammation or fluid within the bursae and joints.
  • Nerve entrapments such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Ganglion cysts.
  • Hernias.

What are the benefits of Ultrasound:

  • Compared to MRI, ultrasound may provide greater internal detail when assessing soft tissue structures such as tendons and nerves.
  • Ultrasound imaging is extremely safe and does not use any ionizing radiation.
  • Ultrasound scanning gives a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show up well on x-ray images.
  • Ultrasound scanning is noninvasive.
  • Because ultrasound images are captured in real time, they can show the movement of a soft tissue structure such as a tendon, joint or an extremity.
  • The hip joints of infants, unlike those of adults, are largely made of cartilage. Ultrasound is able to clearly see cartilage.

There are no known harmful effects on humans for standard diagnostic ultrasound.

What are the limitations of ultrasound imaging of the musculoskeletal system?

Ultrasound has difficulty penetrating bone and, therefore, can only see the outer surface of bony structures and not what lies within. (For visualising internal structure of bones or certain joints, other imaging modalities such as MRI are typically used.

There are also limitations to the depth that sound waves can penetrate; therefore, deeper structures in larger patients may not be seen easily.

Ultrasound has not proven useful in detecting whiplash injuries or most other causes of back pain.