Nuclear Medicine

What Does Musculoskeletal Radiology Do?

Musculoskeletal radiology (MSK) is a subspecialty of diagnostic radiology that uses medical imaging tests to look at bones, joints, and soft tissues. MSK analyzes and interprets the anatomy of the musculoskeletal system and seeks to identify any diseases or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Some of the common conditions that may require MSK imaging include:

  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Plantar fasciitis 
  • Fractures
  • Sports injuries

When Would a Physician Order an MSK Test?

A doctor may be able to diagnose a musculoskeletal disorder after gathering a thorough history and conducting a physical examination. However, sometimes an MSK test is necessary to help confirm or rule out a diagnosis. There are several conditions and disorders of the musculoskeletal system that a doctor might order an MSK for. Primarily, MSK tests are looking for issues in the bones or soft tissues. Examples of MSK tests include:

  • X-rays
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Arthography
  • Bone scan
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA)
  • Ultrasonography

How to Prepare for an MSK Test?

To prepare for your MSK test, there are a few proactive measures you can take to make your visit successful. Helpful steps to prepare for your visit include:

  • Arrive 15-30 minutes early to allow for registration and any necessary paperwork
  • Continue taking medications as normal unless otherwise specified by your healthcare provider
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions regarding eating and drinking prior to your MSK Test
  • Be prepared to discuss your medical history, including medications, surgeries, and if there is a chance you might be pregnant

What to Expect During an MSK Test?

Prior to your MSK test, it may be helpful to ask your doctor what to expect. Typically, for an MSK radiology test, a technologist will help get you in the appropriate position for the imaging test. This may require foam blocks to help keep you in a correct and still position. The technologist will talk you through the procedure, what is required from you, and how long it will take. The technologist will also be the one running the imaging technology. Typically, MSK radiology tests are quick and painless.

What Conditions are Diagnosed by MSK Radiology?

MSK radiology is used to diagnose various musculoskeletal conditions. Common MSK conditions include:

  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Plantar fasciitis 
  • Fractures
  • Tumors
  • Bone deformities
  • Infections
  • Torn ligaments or tendon or cartilage damage

Results and Follow-Up

Once the MSK radiologist test is completed, the results will be sent to your primary care provider. You will need to schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor so he or she can go over the results with you. If any abnormality or condition was detected in the imaging tests, your doctor will work with you to put together a treatment plan. Questions you may want to consider asking your doctor include:

  • What do the results mean for my daily functioning?
  • What is my prognosis and next steps in treatment?
  • Are there any other tests that I need?