Over the last several years the use of ultrasound in sports and orthopedic medicine has grown rapidly. When most people think of ultrasound in medicine, they immediately think of obstetricians looking at growing babies in the uterus with fetal ultrasounds, or cardiologists doing echocardiograms to assess the heart. But cutting-edge sports medicine physicians are starting to use ultrasound both to help diagnose injuries and to guide injections to make them more accurate and effective.
At Valley Sports Physicians we use musculoskeletal ultrasound (MSK US) to help diagnose injuries to muscles, ligaments, and joints. We also use MSK US to guide our injections to help insure accurate and safe -and more effective – treatment. Dr. Tortland and LaVallee are among the most experienced physicians in the country in MSK US.
Diagnostic Musculoskeletal Ultrasound
Advantages of Diagnostic MSK US
MSKUS has many significant advantages over x-rays, MRI, and CT scans. These include:
- better resolution of soft tissue than MRI
- convenient in-office service; no need to go to another facility
- no exposure to ionizing radiation
- no claustrophobia
- the ability to perform a dynamic or “live” study; we can see the injured area move and look for evidence of injury
- more cost-effective
- ability to see inflammation
- ability to guide injections
For example, MSK US has been shown to be equal to or even better than MRI for looking at the rotor cuff. Also, MSK US allows the physician to look for signs of joint instability, unlike x-rays or MRI.
Pitfalls of MSKUS
What can MSK US NOT do? While MSK US has many great advantages, there are some restrictions, including:
- Unlike MRI, ultrasound cannot penetrate bone to “see” inside joints, so cartilage and joint surfaces are not visualized as well
- MSK US is generally not as good as x-rays at looking at bones.
- Performing and interpreting MSK US takes a LOT of training and practice, more than x-rays and MRI. Therefore not many physicians do it.
One of the great advantages of MSK US is the ability to use ultrasound to help the physician guide the needle when performing injections. While many injections traditionally are performed “blind,” without the help of guidance, studies have shown the poor accuracy rate of blind injections. Performing injections under ultrasound guidance helps insure accurate needle placement and medication delivery. This improves both patient comfort and treatment efficacy. It also helps avoid placing the needle in nearby dangerous structures such as nerves, blood vessels, or other organs.
For example, a recent study looked at the accuracy of hip joint injections done with ultrasound guidance. Ultrasound had a 97% accuracy rate. When comparing injections given into the piriformis muscle (a muscle deep in the buttocks that sits on top of the sciatic nerve) between ultrasound and fluoroscopy (“live” x-ray), one study showed that ultrasound guidance achieved a 95% accuracy rate, whereas fluoroscopy was accurate only 30% of the time in guiding the needle correctly.