What is an ultrasound?

Ultrasound technology allows us to evaluate various soft tissue abnormalities around joints, tendons, and muscles in great detail. It has an excellent safety record using non-ionizing radiation to produce images, unlike the ionizing radiation used for x-rays and CT scans. You may be familiar with other types of ultrasound imaging including fetal ultrasound and echocardiography. Musculoskeletal ultrasound is a newer form of this type of imaging, becoming increasingly more popular because of its safety record, accuracy, and low cost.

Why did my doctor order an ultrasound?

Ultrasound is a unique “real time” imaging technique that provides information to your doctor that could not be discerned on physical examination or by review of your medical history. Ultrasound can evaluate certain soft tissue structures within and around your joints including muscles, ligaments, and tendons. It may help delineate whether a region of swelling represents a cyst or other fluid collection, or soft tissue mass in the surrounding muscles or fat. Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can also be evaluated with power Doppler imaging, an ultrasound technique used to evaluate soft tissue inflammation through its assessment of blood flow. The ability to image in “real-time”(i.e. live, dynamic imaging of the body as opposed to the static imaging that is found in MRI, CT, and x-ray studies) allows for ultrasound to be used in the imaging guidance for certain procedures including medication administration into a joint or mass, tissue biopsy, and fluid extraction from a joint or fluid collection.

How should I prepare for the ultrasound?

In most circumstances, no preparation is needed. A blood test may be needed for certain ultrasound procedures. You will be provided with any further prepatory details for your study when your examination is scheduled.

What should I bring to my appointment?

In order for us to perform your test, you will need to bring your prescription, insurance card, and any related insurance forms or pre-approvals.

When should I arrive for my appointment?

When you schedule your appointment, our scheduling associate will let you know how soon before your appointment time you should arrive. Depending on the exact type of exam, this may be 30-60 minutes before your scheduled appointment. This will allow time for registration and to complete all necessary paperwork, forms, and questionnaires.

To save time, you may download, print, and fill out the appropriate forms at home and bring them with you on the day of your appointment.

How is the ultrasound performed and who interprets ultrasound?

The ultrasound examination will be performed by one of our highly trained staff of sonologists and/or board-certified musculoskeletal radiologists at NYU. The individual undergoing the ultrasound examination will lie on a stretcher or sit in a chair in one of our dedicated ultrasound rooms. The individual may need to change into a gown depending on the area of the body that needs to be evaluated. 

First, a clear gel will be applied to the area of interest, which improves the image quality of the study. Then, the imaging will begin when either the sonologist or radiologist places an ultrasound transducer to the area and saves important images. It may be the case that the sonologist will begin the examination and then review their findings with the radiologist. Depending on this review, the radiologist may do additional imaging to further define a particular area and guarantee that a complete study has been obtained.

The radiologist will then perform a final review of the images from your ultrasound study and organize the findings into a written report that will be sent to your referring doctor. Copies of this report should be available at your referring doctor’s office. If fluid was aspirated or a mass was biopsied, the samples will be sent to our laboratory for analysis. These results will also be sent to your referring doctor.

What can I expect after the ultrasound examination?

This will depend on the type of ultrasound study. If you are scheduled for a diagnostic study (i.e. no needles were used), then you should be able to leave our department without assistance right after the study has been completed and resume your regular daily activities without limitation.

If you undergo an interventional (aka therapeutic) ultrasound study  (which entails an injection, aspiration, or biopsy), then you will be monitored for a short time after the study is completed by one of our nurses. You then should be able to leave our department without assistance, although this may vary depending on the procedure you undergo (these details will be available at the time your study is scheduled).  You should be able to resume your regular daily activities within 1-2 days. This will be patient specific and your final instructions will be given to you, including an information sheet with all the directions clearly written, at the time of your study.