Ultrasound for Diagnosing Musculoskeletal Conditions

Musculoskeletal ultrasound evaluates conditions of the joints such as the wrist.


MRI has been the traditional imaging exam used to diagnose musculoskeletal conditions in the United States. Ultrasound has also recently become an excellent option due to advancements in ultrasound technology. Musculoskeletal ultrasound and MRI are starting to be viewed as complimentary exams, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Musculoskeletal ultrasound can also be used for interventional procedures, such as injections and aspirations. Fluoroscopy and CT scanning are often used for these procedures; however, in some circumstances ultrasound is more advantageous.

About Ultrasound

Ultrasound, also called sonography, is an exam that uses sound waves to obtain images of the inside of the body. These high-frequency sound waves are far above the range of human hearing. The sound waves are aimed at a particular area of the body using a hand-held tool called a transducer. The transducer emits sound waves as it is guided across part of the body. As the sound waves strike different body tissues, they are reflected back in varying degrees. The transducer also records the sound waves as they bounce back. The echoed waves are displayed as a continuous real-time image on a computer monitor.

There are no known health risks associated with ultrasound exams and they are generally painless.


There are many advantages to using ultrasound rather than MRI to evaluate musculoskeletal conditions, including the following:

  • Enables the sonographer to evaluate an area in different positions, which can provide more information on which to base a diagnosis
  • Allows for a more thorough evaluation of motion-induced symptoms since ultrasound can be performed as the patient is moving
  • Can be easier to identify the specific source of a problem since the patient can give the sonographer feedback during the exam
  • Since images are viewed real-time, the sonographer can obtain a radiologist consult during the appointment if necessary
  • Doppler ultrasound, which also evaluates blood flow, can provide additional information on which to base a diagnosis
  • Allows the sonographer to compare tissue on both sides of the body in situations where that information would be useful
  • Can detect some tiny abnormalities and small nerves that may be difficult to see on MRI
  • Less expensive than MRI
  • Can be performed on patients who are medically unable to have an MRI (i.e. patients with pacemakers or metal implants)
  • More comfortable for claustrophobic patients

There are also advantages to using musculoskeletal ultrasound for interventional procedures, rather than fluoroscopy or CT scanning, including the following:

  • No radiation exposure
  • No contrast needed
  • Safe during pregnancy
  • Various soft tissues and joints are better seen with ultrasound, increasing the accuracy of needle placements
  • Can allow for the diagnosis and treatment of a condition during the same appointment
  • May detect conditions that indicate the procedure should be avoided or delayed before the procedure is performed

Musculoskeletal Conditions

There are many advantages to using ultrasound rather than MRI to evaluate musculoskeletal conditions, including the following:

  • Tendon tears and ruptures
  • Ligament tears and strains
  • Tears and other abnormalities in the muscles
  • Blood or other fluid collections within the muscles, bursae, and joints
  • Soft tissue tumors
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stress fractures
  • Compressed nerves
  • Fixation hardware in patients after orthopedic procedures or hardware changes
  • Anatomic variants that may lead to disease
  • Abnormal movement of tissue
  • Soft tissue healing after injury

Special Training

Musculoskeletal ultrasound has not yet gained widespread use because it requires specialized training. The benefits listed above may only be obtainable when the sonographer and radiologist are properly trained and experienced.

Invision Sally Jobe Services

Staying on the leading edge, Invision Sally Jobe is one of the first in the Denver Metro area to invest in providing a team of radiologists and sonographers with the advanced specialty training needed to offer musculoskeletal ultrasound. This service is now available at our Centrum DTC location. Invision Sally Jobe also utilizes state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging equipment in their musculoskeletal lab, which is essential to offering the most innovative, effective exams currently available.

Our musculoskeletal radiologists are fellowship-trained with extensive experience in the diagnosis of abnormalities of the bones, joints, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscles. These specialists excel at the evaluation of sports injuries, trauma, arthritis and tumors of bone and soft tissue. Musculoskeletal ultrasound is an additional tool in their armory for efficiently diagnosing musculoskeletal disorders.

Ask Your Physician

While musculoskeletal ultrasound has many benefits, it is not the preferred exam in all situations. If you would like to know more about musculoskeletal ultrasound or think it may be an appropriate exam for you, consult with your personal physician. This exam can only be performed with a physician’s order.

Feature Archive | Home