It Sounds Like a Torn Shoulder TendonLess than 30 years ago, a single computer filled an entire room. Today the same device can be held in your hand. Technology has also changed medical diagnostic imaging. Equipment size and cost has changed. For example, an ultrasound machine used to weigh more than 100 pounds and cost up to 200,000 dollars. Today the same unit weighs about five pounds and costs under 20,000 dollars.
Ultrasound can be used to look at soft tissues around joints, including the shoulder. The doctor can examine the patient in the office and look for rotator cuff tears in the same visit. The patient isn't exposed to radiation or dyes. The patient with claustrophobia isn't put inside a machine. It's fast and economical. Ultrasound can be used with patients who have metal implants or heart pacemakers. Are there any disadvantages with this testing? Only one: it doesn't show tears of the cartilage in or around the joint.
In this report, doctors tell what kind of training is needed to begin using ultrasound for shoulder injuries. The exam for each of the muscles and tendons around the joint is also described. The results are compared with outcomes from other imaging studies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Ultrasound is more accurate and more reliable. It's also less costly than MRIs.
Doctors are pleased that in-office ultrasound helps them teach their patients. Patients are able to see for themselves exactly what's wrong. The doctor can show normal anatomy and motion by using the machine on the uninjured side. When a patient can actually see a tear in the tendon, they get a first-hand view of why surgery may be recommended.
R. Sean Churchill, MD, et al. Rotator Cuff Ultrasonography: Diagnostic Capabilities. In Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. January/February 2004. Vol. 12. No. 1. Pp. 6-11.
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