Sports Ultrasound Use

Ultrasonography is a diagnostic and evaluation modality that has been used in medicine since the mid-1900s, although the physics of ultrasound was initially considered in the late 1800s.  In recent years, ultrasound use has become more popular for sports medicine and surgical procedures, among other functions.

Unlike MRI’s and X-Rays, ultrasounds have the unique ability to provide a safer, more comfortable environment for the patient, free of radiation, while still providing effective and useful information to the operator and physician in charge.

While the sophistication and development of ultrasound technology continue to grow rapidly, there are still restraints, limitations, and disadvantages of this interventional modality.

In what follows, we’ll be discussing what a sports ultrasound is, why and how it’s used in a medical context, and its advantages & disadvantages, among other things.

What is a Sports Ultrasound?

A sports ultrasound, or more specifically a musculoskeletal ultrasound, is a non-invasive imaging and evaluation tool that uses sound waves to identify specific body regions and aid in the diagnosis of an injury or condition.

Ultrasound use, in general, is wide-ranging, with applications in medical fields such as obstetrics, general surgery, gynecology, orthopedics, and urology.

In the context of sports medicine, ultrasounds are of primary benefit when it comes to sport-related injuries such as ligament or tendon tears, dislocations, tendonitis, fractures, sprains, and ruptures because of their ability to effectively scan structures with high accuracy and resolution.

This makes it an incredibly effective tool for evaluating injuries of the ankle, hip, leg, and shoulder.

The prevalence of ultrasound use in sports medicine has grown in recent years due to the many obvious benefits for the athlete and its potential to reduce healthcare costs drastically.

As mentioned, however, this innovative technology does come with some limitations. The following information will discuss ultrasound use and its advantages and disadvantages.

Sports Ultrasound Uses

Ultrasound in the context of sports medicine is a diagnostic technology that is especially beneficial due to its ability to evaluate musculoskeletal structures non-invasively.

Ultrasound has been used by physicians to examine fluid surrounding structures that may indicate tendonitis, for example.  It can also be used to evaluate a range of motion functionality and evaluate possible bone fractures.

Outside of its diagnostic utilization, ultrasounds can also be an effective visualization tool during certain medical procedures, such as proper localization of injection sites for medications such as steroids. This improved visualization is much safer for the patient and more accurately treats the condition.

It can also be utilized in joint aspiration, which can help diagnose a joint condition as well as relieve pain and pressure in a joint.

Advantages of Sports Ultrasound (US)

Ultrasound meets all of the requirements of utility in the healthcare industry, and more specifically, in sports medicine.

Not only is it cost-effective for the user and physician, but its resourcefulness, portability, safety, and high-resolution imagery make it a superior medical tool in many contexts, sports medicine included.

While ultrasonography is still underutilized, many are becoming more and more aware of its specific benefits.

Below are the Several Benefits of Using a Sports Ultrasound [5]:

  • It’s non-invasive
  • Provides real-time assessment data
  • Readily available
  • Equipment portability
  • Safe in health-compromised patients
  • Use is repeatable for monitoring
  • Relatively cost-efficient
  • Offers high-quality resolution imagery of examination
  • Free from ionizing radiation
  • Interactive

The advantages of a sports ultrasound far outweigh its few disadvantages.

It’s important to realize the safety that ultrasound provides versus ionizing radiation.  Anytime that radiation can be avoided, it is much more healthy for the injured athlete.

Ultrasound operators should not only have a keen understanding of how to use it, but they should also be aware of its limitations. For example, while an ultrasound is effective for examining and diagnosing certain injuries and conditions, it doesn’t adequately assess deeper-rooted injuries, such as fractures of bones.

Disadvantages of Sports Ultrasound (US)

The disadvantages of ultrasound should be considered; however, these can be managed well in most sports medicine programs. The primary disadvantage of the ultrasound is its user-dependency.

These are some of the Disadvantages of Using a Sports Ultrasound [6]:

  • Highly user-dependent
  • Requires a lengthy training period for the operator
  • Inability to examine deeper structures of the body
  • May be ineffective in obese or overweight patients

Regardless of these few disadvantages, ultrasounds are an extremely beneficial tool for the healthcare system. With the ability to evaluate tendinopathies, rotator cuff pathology, and other soft-tissue conditions, ultrasound is an invaluable modality in sports medicine.

Final Thoughts

Sports ultrasound is cost-efficient for both the user and the patient, and it provides extremely useful information in an extremely high-quality format. More importantly, it’s safe, readily available, fast, and portable.

Luckily, sports ultrasound use is growing and will continue to be a helpful benefit to the field of sports medicine.

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