Musculoskeletal imaging is a helpful tool for healthcare practitioners to see exactly what is occurring within the body. The use of imaging can help to indicate to practitioners exactly where the injuries or abnormalities are located, along with the extent of damage or physiological changes present, to establish a more accurate recovery time or alter the treatment plan as necessary. Imaging can also be used as an indication of how effective previous treatment has been.

All practitioners are bound by strict guidelines governing when it is appropriate to refer patients for imaging so as to not unnecessarily expose patients to any risk of radiation.

There are a number of different types of imaging. The most well-known are: X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Ultrasound and Computerised Tomography (CT). They all work in different ways to obtain different pieces of information.

X-rays are generally the most talked about, as they are easily accessible and inexpensive. They are a type of radiation that can pass through the body. The energy from them is absorbed at different rates by different parts of the body. A detector on the other side of the body picks up on the X-rays after they’ve passed through and turns them into an image. The denser parts of your body that X-rays find it more difficult to travel through show up as clear white areas on the image. Hence why they are used to detect bone fractures/breaks. X-ray radiation can be dangerous if exposed to too much. Over-exposure to X-rays can damage structures within the body and potentially cause damage to cells which can then lead to loss of hair, burns and increased incidence of cancer. However, you will need a lot more than a couple of X-rays to be exposed to any dangerous level of radiation.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is also a relatively common scan. They are slightly different to X-rays and use magnetic fields and radio waves to produce images from protons in the body which act as tiny magnets. During the scan, you lie inside a large tube which has the scanner within it, short bursts of radio waves are then sent into certain areas of the body, knocking protons out of alignment. When the waves are turned off, the protons realign which sends out radio signals picked up by the receivers. These signals are then combined to create a detailed image of the inside of the body. MRIs can be used to examine almost any part of the body including the brain, bones, blood vessels, breasts and internal organs. A benefit of the use of MRI scans is that the patient is not exposed to radiation, unlike X-rays for example. MRI scans typically can provide a more comprehensive image, as they allow us to view the nerves, discs, cartilage, soft tissue as well as the bones. 

Ultrasound scans, also known as Sonograms, use high-frequency sound waves and a “probe” to create an image of part of the inside of the body. The probe gives off high-frequency sound waves. They cannot be heard during the scan but they echo and are created into an image. Unlike the other types of scans outlined above, the ultrasound gives a live picture of what that part of the body looks like exactly when the scan is taking place, meaning that it can assess the joint when both stationary and in motion. There is also no radiation involved during this type of scan. 

Computerised Tomography (CT) scans combine multiple x-ray images taken from different angles around your body to create cross-sectional images (slices) of the bones, blood vessels and soft tissues inside the body. A good visualisation to understand is to think of the body as a sliced loaf of bread, the CT scan takes pictures of each slice and puts them together to create the scan image. 

A practitioner may refer you to get one of the above scans if they feel that having results from the scan would change the way in which they treat your condition. Another reason for which you could be referred for a scan is if there hasn’t been a significant improvement in your condition or reduction in pain over a period of time. This would then justify establishing if there could be an underlying reason as to why there hasn’t been as much/any improvement to the condition.  Having scans is also useful for ruling out any serious pathologies and therefore contraindications before beginning the treatment process. 

If you would like to know more about the different types of MSK imaging, give us a call on 01702 342329 or book online to see one of our massage therapists or chiropractors.