Ultrasound imaging is a common diagnostic scan that uses painless high-frequency sound waves to produce images (sonograms). The scan involves a hand-held probe called a transducer that is placed directly on and moved over the body part to be diagnosed. A water-based gel is used to couple the ultrasound between the transducer and patient. There is no radiation involved with ultrasound. We are able to visualize bone, muscle, tendon, some ligaments, blood vessels, and soft tissue masses, and when needed, we can use ultrasound for dynamic assessment of these tissues – something MRI cannot.
Use of the office ultrasound can enable us to come to a diagnosis immediately, often saving a trip (and cost) to have an MRI. The ultrasound image is not as detailed as an MRI, however, and if there is any ambiguity to the ultrasound image, another study such as an MRI may still be recommended. The ultrasound is also used to assist with procedures such as needle aspiration of a cyst, or injection of a joint, to help ensure optimal placement of the needle. New techniques are constantly being developed to employ this non-invasive tool for treatment of upper extremity conditions.