From Ships to Hips – The Increasing Role of Ultrasound in the Diagnosis and Management of Musculoskeletal Conditions.

The idea for the first direct-contact ultrasound scanner dates to 1956 and Scottish engineer Tom Brown. Using an instrument originally designed to find structural problems with ships (the Supersonic Flaw Detector), Brown collaborated with fellow Scotsman and obstetrician Ian Donald to develop a transducer that could be moved manually over the patient’s abdomen, displaying a 2-D image that could be viewed on an oscilloscope.

The foundations of musculoskeletal (MSK) ultrasound were developed soon thereafter, and its low cost and high accuracy have led to its present-day routine use in the evaluation of joint and soft tissue disorders.

MSK ultrasound (MSK US) can be used alone or alongside X-rays, CT Scans and MRI’s to investigate hip, shoulder, knee and other joint problems, along with muscles, ligaments, nerves and even tissue abnormalities or injury. Ultrasound technology and tools have improved dramatically over the years, and today, MSK US can often provide a more practical and cost-effective approach to joint and soft tissue problems compared to other imaging types.

Better equipment and viewing technology allow doctors to image a broad range of MSK conditions – in some cases with greater detail than MRI. Improvements such as color and/or power Doppler technology can provide physicians with amazingly detailed information about blood flow in tissues, arteries, and the valves and chambers of the heart.

At RMGSCC – our radiologists and technologists have undergone extensive training in MSK US. We work with physicians to figure out the best imaging exams for patients with MSK conditions. In addition to MSK US, RMGSCC provides general (non-obstetric) ultrasound, breast ultrasound and ultrasound-guided breast biopsy.


Why MSK-US Is Getting Better

  • Improvements in technology that provide image quality rivaling that of CT and MRI systems
  • Faster scan times as well as better patient comfort
  • Lower cost of ultrasound compared to CT and MRI exams
  • The dynamic, real-time nature of ultrasound, which allows for joint movement and patient feedback during the test, resulting in more personalized exams

Immediate Patient Feedback
MSK US allows for direct patient feedback at the time of the exam. This helps pinpoint the exact location of the problem based on symptoms that may be aggravated by movement. Contralateral comparison – comparing the “good” shoulder to the “bad” shoulder, for example – can help to tell the difference between diseased or injured tissue and normal tissue. Additionally, long structures such as nerves and muscles can be viewed in their entirety during a single test.

Improved Experience
Ultrasound is not as scary for the patient compared to the tight spaces of CT or MRI systems. Ultrasound produces no ionizing radiation and does not require the patient to lie on his or her back for long periods of time. Finally, unlike with MRI, having metal or surgical implants does not keep the patient from have an MSK US exam.

Cost Savings
Less costly ultrasound exams – when appropriate – can save a great deal of money on orthopedic injury assessment. With today’s high deductibles and insurance co-pays, MSK US can also save on patient out-of-pocket expenses.

Despite its many advantages, MSK US is not always recommended, so make sure to talk with your doctor and understand the reasons for any imaging procedure, whether it’s X-ray, CT, MRI or MSK US.

For more information on our diagnostic services, visit or call our office at 831-462-0151.

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