Musculoskeletal ultrasound

Musculoskeletal ultrasound is a painless imaging test that is used to examine and produce real-time images of the joints, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and muscles throughout the body.

Musculoskeletal ultrasound can help to diagnose conditions such as arthritis, tear, sprain, trapped nerve, strain and other musculoskeletal conditions.

Ultrasound uses sound waves not radiation and can help to detect abnormalities in the Musculoskeletal structure of the body.

Uses of Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

Since ultrasound scan are used to produce real-time images of the internal organs/structure, Musculoskeletal ultrasound can be used to;

  1. Diagnose malignant soft tissue tumor and benign.
  2. Diagnose ligaments tears or sprain.
  3. Diagnose muscle masses, tears, or fluid collection.
  4. Diagnose early changes in rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. Diagnose foreign bodies in soft tissues such as glass or splinters.
  6. Fluid effusions or inflammation within the bursae and joints.
  7. Diagnose tendinitis of the rotatory cliff in the shoulder or tendon tears, Achilles tendon in the ankle, and other tendons throughout the body.
  8. Diagnose hernias: hernia occurs when an internal organ pushes through the wall of muscle or tissue.
  9. Diagnose ganglion cysts: ganglion cysts are lump that mostly develop along the joints or tendons of hands or wrist. They are noncancerous and may also occur in the ankles and feet.

In infants, it helps to diagnose conditions such as;

  1. Dislocations of the hip.
  2. Lumps and bumps or soft tissue masses.
  3. Fluid in a painful hip joint.
  4. Neck twisting: neck muscle abnormalities such as torticollis in infants.

Who Performs the Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

Musculoskeletal ultrasound is performed by an ultrasound technologist or technician. A diagnostic radiologist or radiologist is a medical professional who is trained to interpret ultrasound images.

They specialize in interpreting medical imaging tests including MRI scans, ultrasound, and CT scans.

Procedures of Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

Musculoskeletal ultrasound is performed in a hospital. The procedure of the Musculoskeletal ultrasound takes less than 30 mins generally. Steps include;

  1. Lying down on a table in the ultrasound room which usually has dark or dimly light, to enable easy reading of the ultrasound images on the ultrasound screen.
  2. A special water-based gel will be applied to the area under examination to reduce friction and help the transducer slide across your skin. It is the transducer that sends and receives soundwaves to produce the image on the ultrasound screen.
  3. The technologist will move the transducer back and forth on the area under examination while looking at the screen.
  4. The technologist will occasionally press the transducer down. While he’s doing this, you might be asked to hold your breath or change your position for a short while. This will enable the technologist to have a clear imaging that will help diagnose your condition.
  5. The water-based gel is then wiped off from your skin.
  6. You may be asked to wait for a short while. Then the diagnostic radiologist will check if the imaging was complete.
  7. After an imaging test, patient are usually asked to go home.

What you may experience during and after a Musculoskeletal ultrasound

During a musculoskeletal ultrasound, you may experience minimal or no discomfort as the transducer presses against your skin.

After the musculoskeletal ultrasound, you will be asked to dress and sit for a while as the result is being reviewed. You may be given the results immediately or asked to return to the hospital in a few days and should be able to resume normal activities after an ultrasound scan.

Benefits of Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

Musculoskeletal ultrasound

Some known benefits of Musculoskeletal ultrasound are listed below:

  1. It is not painful although it may be uncomfortable temporarily.
  2. It is noninvasive which means that there are no injections or needles.
  3. For claustrophobic patients, ultrasound is the best alternative to an MRI scan.
  4. It is less expensive and easy to use compared to other imaging methods.
  5. Ultrasound can show movements of soft tissue structure such as joint or tendon.
  6. It is widely available compared to other imaging methods and provides great internal details when accessing soft tissue structures.
  7. It is completely safe and it uses soundwaves not radiation.
  8. It is a good tool for guiding minimally invasive procedures such as fluid aspiration and needle biopsies as it produces real-time imaging.
  9. It provides a more clear picture of soft tissues that did not show up clearly on the x-ray.
  10. It is used to examine hip joints in infants which are made of cartilage.

Risks/complications of Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

A standard ultrasound diagnostics do have a known harmful effect on the human body, but an interpretation of the ultrasound may lead to other procedures such as biopsy, aspiration, and followups.

Limitation of Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

Though ultrasound scan is painless and has no known harmful effect on the human body, it has a few limitations. These limitations include;

  1. Ultrasound has not been proven to be useful in detecting Whiplash injuries or most causes of back pain.
  2. Ultrasound can only see the outer surface of bony structures except in children who have more cartilage in their skeleton than adults.
  3. Ultrasound cannot penetrate bone or visualize internal structures of bones or certain joints therefore other methods such as MRI scans are used.


Musculoskeletal ultrasound is mainly used to diagnose conditions that are related to muscles, joints, nerves and ligaments. Since ultrasound is known for its painless and harmless feature, you need not to worry about an ultrasound causing you more damage.