Scans are the gold standard when it comes to diagnosing most musculoskeletal conditions. Whether this is a torn ligament or broken bone, MRI's, Ultrasounds and X-Ray's give us important information that can assist in developing an appropriate rehabilitation program. But are they really necessary? Do they do more harm than good?
When should you get a scan?
When seeing a physiotherapist or doctor, they will gather an extensive history of your injury and assess your movement etc. If there is a suspicion of a broken bone, a completely torn ligament, tendon or muscle then it is likely you will be referred for a scan. These injuries are likely to result in surgery so it is a good idea to get an extent of the injury which can be examined to decide what is the most appropriate action. If the above injuries have been ruled out through examination than it is likely you won't be referred for a scan. There are other circumstances for when you may need a scan but these will likely be discussed with your physiotherapist or doctor if they're needed.
What are the benefits of a scan?
Scans are beneficial in that they can tell us exactly what is going on at a certain joint in the body. This can allow treatment to be more specific. Unfortunately many orthopaedic tests are not 100% accurate so there can be the potential of an incorrect diagnosis. Scans can help to reduce this risk.
What should you do once you get your scan?
Most scans will come with a report. It is always a good idea to get a copy of this report incase you want a 2nd opinion or want to read it yourself. Many people won't get a copy of their report and then trying to get a copy later on can be quite a hassle so it's good to get one as soon as you can. If you want you can read the report however, there will be several bits of information that may be difficult to understand depending on your level of health literacy, however a simple google search can fix this. However, it is best to be cautious when googling as many things can be explained poorly on the internet and sometimes it is best to have it explained to you from a health professional before performing your own research. Once you've got your report etc. it is a good idea to make a follow up appointment with your doctor or physiotherapist so they can go over the results. If you have any questions regarding anything it is good to take notes down or prepare questions before the appointment.
What are the negatives of getting a scan?
Whilst scans can show us valuable information that is needed to perform adequate treatment. Scans can actually be quite harmful and impact our beliefs. As human bodies age, we naturally get some wear and tear in most joints throughout our bodies. Just like cars, we need regular check ups with a Doctor or Physiotherapist to make sure everything is functioning, as we do when we regularly service our cars. As our cars get older they get some wear and tear, as do our bodies! For many people they will have missing cartilage or degenerative changes in many if not most of their joints! Yet most people will be pain free with no issues. For many people these results can be unexpected and have an impact on our rehabilitation and influence our pain. Seeing scan results that indicate degenerative changes can put a lot of negative thoughts and beliefs into our brain. Generally these degenerative changes are not reversible and we are stuck with them. This can lead to people becoming more cautious with their movement or stopping certain activities which they don't need to!!
So do you really need a scan?
If your physiotherapist or doctor recommends for you to get a scan it is likely that you need one. However, sometimes they can produce results that may be unexpected and can negatively impact our beliefs and thoughts that then ultimately may affect our day to day life. It is always a good idea to go in with an open mind when getting scan results as sometimes it can give results you might not expect!