Today there are several different types of scans available for us to request and use as clinicians. Patients can often get confused about the difference between these types of scans, or why one is chosen over another.
If you’ve had an acute (new) injury and have consulted your GP, they may have sent you for an x-ray before referring you for Physiotherapy. An x-ray is a form of electromagnetic radiation that is used for images of the skeletal system (bones), as well as pathology of the lungs and the abdomen. Your Doctor or Physio will refer you for an x-ray if they suspect a fracture, or any sort of bony abnormality. X-rays produce 2D images and do not show injuries to the tendon, ligaments or other soft tissues.
A CT scan (Computed Tomography) is a variation of an x-ray which generates images of the musculoskeletal system but can also be used for other parts of the body such as the head and lungs. Traditionally, CT scans also produced 2D images in axial and sagittal planes, but due to modern technology they can now produce images in various planes or even 3D representations. CT scans are most reliable for picking up bony fractures, ligament injuries and dislocations.
An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a medical imaging technique which uses a powerful magnetic field to produce images. It provides good contrast between the different soft tissues, which makes it especially useful in imaging muscles, tendons, nerves and other soft tissues.
In the practice of Physiotherapy we do not use scans as a means to a diagnosis as they do not necessarily reflect the true problem or where pain is originating from. Many people with no pain or injury can have abnormal findings on a CT or MRI. Scans can, however, be helpful when surgical intervention may be indicated, for example, following a knee injury with a possible ACL tear. As always, if you have any questions be sure to contact your Bend + Mend Physiotherapist!