Diagnostic Ultrasound: Evaluating Athletes at a Faster Pace
Oct 25, 2018
While most people think of ultrasound as a device used during pregnancy, it has become a tool used by other medical specialties. In the hands of a skilled operator the ultrasound can be used to diagnose injuries to bone, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and even nerves. For some Sports Medicine physicians this tool has become as valuable as their stethoscope. This portable device can be pushed or carried from room to room to help better evaluate their patients.
Ultrasound machines send sound waves through a probe that comes in contact with gel on the skin. These sound waves then produce an image on a screen by reflecting off body tissues back to towards the probe.With the very detailed images produced by an ultrasound you can see if a body part is normal or abnormal – like swollen, thickened, torn, or stretched with extra blood flow in or around the area.
When used, ultrasound essentially becomes an extension of the physical exam. Just like when a physician examines a patient, the ultrasound can look for swelling and instability, but with direct visualization under the skin surface. If a patient pinpoints their pain to one area, the ultrasound can be used to look at that spot for the exact cause – such as a broken bone, torn ligament or stretched tendon.
Additionally, its use is not confined to the clinic. For example, it can be used on the sidelines of a football game or during a visit to the athletic training room.
Ultrasound has several benefits, including:
No radiation exposure
For some common sports related injuries diagnostic ultrasound has replaced other forms of advanced imaging, such as MRI, which typically come with a much higher cost. Unlike most types of imaging ultrasound can give pictures in real time and allow the physician to see body parts in motion.
These exams allow for more patient-physician interaction as well. Patients are able to watch the same ultrasound machine screen the physician is using to perform their evaluation and can ask questions during the procedure. Lastly, because ultrasound is a point of care test, there are no wait times or scheduling needed. This ultimately leads to faster evaluation, then treatment and, finally, the athlete’s return to their sport!
Drew Duerson, MD, is a member of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine team. Dr. Duerson is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and is board certified in pediatrics and sports medicine by the American Board of Pediatrics.
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