Benefits of Using Ultrasound to Diagnose Musculoskeletal Issues

While doctors can learn a lot from a talking with a patient and conducting a physical exam, it often helps to get a look inside the body to see what’s causing discomfort, immobility or other symptoms. X-rays and MRI scans can be useful tools, but they have their limitations. Another type of imaging – ultrasound – offers some distinct advantages.

When we think of ultrasound, we often think of prenatal visits in which an expectant mother gets a first glimpse of her baby, but the technology has multiple applications across many types of medicine, including orthopedics. Ultrasound imaging offers a number of benefits in diagnosing musculoskeletal issues, including arthritis, sports injuries, rotator cuff injuries, tendonitis, bursitis and more. And its uses aren’t just limited to diagnostics. Ultrasound sometimes is used in certain treatments, such as injection therapies and biopsies, to help target treatment to a precise location.

According to Palmetto Bone & Joint’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist, Dr. Alaric Van Dam, there are a number of reasons ultrasound is uniquely suited for use in orthopedics:

1.Ultrasounds are remarkably safe.

Ultrasound, also known as sonography, uses sound waves to develop images of body tissues. No dyes or anesthetics are needed. And unlike X-rays or CT scans, there’s not even a low dose of radiation exposure. In fact, there are no known side effects of the procedure.

2.Ultrasound captures images of soft tissues.

X-rays are excellent tools for viewing bones, and orthopedists can make inferences about what’s going on with the soft tissues around those bones based on what they see in an X-ray image. But to actually see those tissues, you need an imaging tool that’s more sensitive. Ultrasound imaging captures muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and cartilage.

3.Ultrasound works in different positions.

Standard X-ray or MRI machines require a patient to lie down, stand or sit up in a specific position. Lying down for an imaging procedure only captures what your body is doing when you’re lying down.

4.Ultrasound can see what happens when you move.

Some imaging techniques only work when the patient holds still, so only captures static images. With ultrasound, the patient can move during the procedure, so the doctor or technician can see how tissues act or react to certain movement, such as bending, twisting or reaching, for instance. This can be crucial for diagnosing symptoms that affect mobility or that only occur when you’re moving.

5. Ultrasound offers more accurate diagnosis.

Ultrasound produces images in real time and show doctors a much more accurate picture of what occurs in the body during movement. This translates to more accurate diagnosis – and more accurate treatment for patients.

What to Expect During an Ultrasound Procedure

An ultrasound procedure is relatively simple. A doctor or technician will apply a small amount of gel to your skin. He or she then will use an instrument called a transducer, which glides across the skin. The transducer emits sound waves and sends images to a computer based on what those sound waves detect. The doctor may ask you to move your limbs or joints in certain ways during the procedure, so he or she can see what’s happening during those movements. At Palmetto Bone & Joint, ultrasound is one of many tools we use every day to diagnose and treat patients. Learn more as Dr. Van Dam talks about the advantages of ultrasound technology:

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What You Need to Know About Back Problems

Back pain doesn’t only occur because of improper heavy lifting or sleeping on a non-supportive mattress. There are a myriad of potential causes – and not all of them even originate in the back. If you’re experiencing back pain, either suddenly or for a prolonged period of time, it’s important to see a medical professional, such as one of the doctors at Palmetto Bone & Joint, for an accurate diagnosis.

Back Injuries

Acute back pain often is associated with injuries – such as from a fall, stress or strain, sports injury or a car accident. Sprains, strains and spasms are common. But it’s important to have your symptoms evaluated to check for more serious injuries such as a herniated, or “slipped” disc, or a fracture, especially if your pain is severe.

Less serious back injuries may heal on their own in a matter of days or weeks. But that doesn’t mean you should suffer during that time. A doctor can evaluate your situation and offer guidance and, if needed, medication or other measures to help you feel more comfortable while the injury heals. More serious injuries may require more serious interventions.

Spinal Conditions

Sometimes back problems can be exacerbated or caused by conditions of the spine. You may have a congenital condition, meaning you were born with it, that you may not even be aware of. Examples include scoliosis or spina bifida. Or you may have a degenerative disease, such as arthritis or osteoporosis, that has developed and worsened over time.

There are also a number of conditions that affect the nerves and tissues around the spinal cord that can cause discomfort in your back. Sciatica is one example. It affects the sciatic nerve, which travels down through the back of the leg. Sciatica can cause severe back pain that continues through the buttocks and down the leg. Another example is spinal stenosis, in which the spinal column narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves – and which can lead to sciatica.

Non-Spinal Causes of Back Pain

Because the back is such a central structure of the body, there are situations in which you may feel discomfort in your back that originates elsewhere in the body. Some examples include:

  • Kidney stones or infection – You may feel sharp pain in your lower back, especially on one side.
  • Endometriosis – This is a condition of the uterus.
  • Fibromyalgia – This chronic condition causes widespread muscle pain and fatigue throughout the body.
  • Tumors – Tumorous growths can put pressure on the spine. It’s crucial to have these evaluated to screen for cancer.
  • Pregnancy – Back pain is common later in pregnancy and generally resolves after birth. A doctor can help expectant mothers manage discomfort while it persists.

Innovative Treatments

Diagnosing the cause of your back pain is just the first step toward helping you feel better. At Palmetto Bone & Joint, our spinal experts have years of experience in developing effective treatment plans that help patients get their lives back.

Our spine surgeon, Dr. Samuel Davis, received his training at Duke and Emory universities and has been at the leading edge of spine research.  He specializes in less invasive advanced procedures of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. Depending on your situation, treatment may include medication, rehabilitation, or surgery.  

Drs. Jaqueline Van Dam, Alaric Van Dam, and Giridhar Gundu provide a range of non-surgical treatment of patients such regenerative medicine including stem cell therapy, nerve conduction studies, injections, employing technology such as dynamic ultrasound to for precision diagnosis and treatment.