Glossary of terms

A

Achilles Tendon – the flexible band of fibrous tissue that connects the lower leg to the calf muscle.

Acute Pain - pain that arises quickly, is severe, but lasts a short time.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) - the ligament, located in the center of the knee, which controls rotation and forward movement of the tibia.

Anterolateral Shin Splint - a type of shin splint that affects the front and outer part of the muscles of the shin and is caused by a congenital (present at birth) imbalance in the size of opposite muscles.

Arthritis - inflammation of a joint, usually accompanied by pain, swelling, and sometimes change in structure.

Arthrography - an arthrography is often used to help diagnose the cause of unexplained joint pain. A contrast iodine solution is injected into the joint area to help highlight the joint structures, such as the ligaments, cartilage, tendons and joint capsule. Several X-rays of the joint are taken, using a fluoroscope, a special piece of X-ray equipment that immediately shows the image. You may be asked to fast prior to the exam. During the examination, you may be asked to move the joint into various positions as the images are taken. It is normal to experience some discomfort or tingling during the procedure. If you are or may be pregnant, or are allergic to iodine or shellfish, notify your physician; you may be at a higher risk of complications.

Avascular Necrosis (AVN) - a bone tissue disease that results from impaired or disrupted blood supply (as caused by injury or disease); results in severe pain in the affected region and weakened bone that may collapse; when AVN occurs near a joint, collapse of the joint surface is possible.

B

Blood Tests - as part of your examination, your orthopaedist may order a variety of blood tests. Some conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may be identified by the presence of a specific substance in your blood. You may be asked to fast prior to the exam. Usually a blood test is a simple matter that involves withdrawing a small amount of blood from your arm.

Bone Scan – two very different kinds of tests may be called bone scans. One type tests the density of the bone and is used to diagnose osteoporosis. This type of bone scan uses narrow X-ray beams or ultrasound to see how solid the bone is. No preparation is required for this test, which takes only a few minutes and has no side effects. (See Dual-Photon Absorptiometry, Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, and Peripheral Bone Density Testing.)

The second type of bone scan is used to identify areas where there is unusually active bone formation. It is frequently used to pinpoint stress fracture sites or the presence of arthritis, infection, or cancer. About three hours before the scan, you will be given a dose of a mildly radioactive substance called "Technetium" through an intravenous line (IV). This substance occurs naturally in your body and is used in the bone formation process. The bone scan itself is performed about three hours later, which gives the bone time to absorb the Technetium. As you lie on a table, a special nuclear camera takes a picture of your entire body. This process takes 30 to 90 minutes. Areas of abnormal bone formation activity will appear brighter than the rest of the skeleton.

No fasting or other preparation is required for this test. The amount of radioactivity absorbed during a Technetium bone scan is minimal, and there are usually no side effects. You may feel some discomfort as the IV line is placed. Some people may feel nauseous. Tell your physician if you are or may be pregnant or are a nursing mother before you schedule this test.

Bunion - an inflammation and thickening of the bursa in the joint of the big toe.

Bursa - a sac filled with fluid located between a bone and a tendon or muscle.

Bursitis - repeated small stresses and overuse that cause the bursa to swell and become irritated.

C

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - a condition in which the median nerve is compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, a narrow confined space. Since the median nerve provides sensory and motor functions to the thumb and three middle fingers, many symptoms may result.

Cartilage - a smooth material that covers bone ends of a joint to cushion the bone and allow the joint to move easily without pain.

Cast - a cast holds a broken bone in place as it heals, prevents, or decreases muscle contractures, or provides immobilization, especially after surgery. Casts immobilize the joint above and the joint below the area that is to be kept straight and without motion.

Computed Tomography (CT Scan) - a CT scan (computed tomography) combines X-rays with computer technology to produce a more detailed, cross-sectional image of your body. It may be ordered if your doctor suspects a tumor or a fracture that doesn’t appear on X-rays (such as in your collarbone or pelvis) or if you’ve had severe trauma to the chest, abdomen, pelvis or spinal cord. The process is painless. You lie motionless on a table as it slides into the center of the cylinder-like CT scanner. An X-ray tube slowly rotates around you, taking many pictures from all directions. A computer combines the images to produce a clear, two-dimensional view on a television screen. You may need to drink or be injected with barium sulfate or a dye so that certain parts of your body can be seen more clearly. The drink has a chalky taste and may make you feel nauseous; a dye injection may be moderately painful. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant before undergoing a CT scan.

Congenital - present at birth.

Contusion - bruise.

Cubital Tunnel - a tunnel of muscle, ligament, and bone on the inside of the elbow.

Chronic Pain - chronic pain is pain that progresses slowly over a long period of time.

Conservative Management (or Conservative Treatment) - conservative management is the use of non-surgical treatments that reduce the need for surgery and provide symptom relief. This can include cortisone shots, Hyaluronic acid supplementation (Synvisc or Hyalgon), bracing, and physical therapy to decrease the need for surgery.

Cortisone - a steroid preparation that can be injected into various areas of the body to provide pain relief from conditions such as an Arthritic joint; in some cases, Cortisone may alleviate problems like Bursitis and Tendonitis.

D

DeQuervain’s Syndrome - a painful condition of the wrist on the side closer to the thumb, resulting from tendons being trapped beneath a ligament as they travel to the thumb; can be treated with a brace, a Cortisone injection, or surgery to relieve the pressure on the tendon(s).

Dislocation - a dislocation occurs when extreme force is put on a ligament causing the two bone ends to separate. Dislocations can also affect a joint, the point where two or more bones come together. The joint is created as a "ball-and-socket" joint. A dislocated joint causes the head of the bone (ball) to partially or completely come out of the socket.

Discography - discography is a test used to determine whether the discs, the cushioning pads that separate the bones of the spine, are the source of back pain. It may be performed before surgery to positively identify the painful disc(s).

Before the procedure begins, you will be given antibiotics and relaxation medications through an IV line. Medication is used to numb the skin over the test site. During the procedure, the doctor inserts a needle into one or more discs and injects a contrast dye. You’ll feel pain when the dye is introduced into the problem disc. Afterward, a CT scan will show any changes in the disc size or shape. You may experience some muscle discomfort after the procedure; your doctor can prescribe pain relievers to ease the discomfort.

No special preparations are required for this test.

Doppler Ultrasound - an orthopaedist who suspects that you have a blockage in the blood vessels of your legs or arms may order an ultrasound test. An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves that echo off the body. This creates a picture of the blood vessels. The Doppler audio system transmits the "swishing" sound of the blood flow. This is a noninvasive test that has no side effects.

A clear jelly is applied to the skin over the blood vessels being tested. The technician uses a sensor that looks like a microphone. The sensor is placed against the skin and moved up and down across the area being tested. The technician will apply pressure every few inches to see if the blood vessels change their shape. The test takes about 30 minutes, and most people experience no pain or discomfort.

Dual-Photon Absorptiometry - dual-photon absorptiometry (DPA), a test for osteoporosis, has been mostly replaced by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). DPA measures bone density in the spine, hip, or total body using a photon beam. Although accurate for predicting fracture risk, precision is poor.

Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry - dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is the most widely used test for measuring bone density. It can accurately and precisely monitor changes in bone density in patients with osteoporosis who are undergoing treatments. This machine takes a picture of the bones in the spine, hip, total body and wrist and calculates their density. It is painless and noninvasive, requiring no special preparations.

For this exam, you lie on a table while the X-ray scanning machine moves over your body to capture images of your hip, spine or entire body. The exam takes about 20 minutes to complete, and the radiation dosage from the X-ray is less than that used for a chest X-ray. Your bone density and risk of fracture are compared to the "normal" range for people your age as well as to the maximum bone density possible.

Dupuytren’s Contracture - a thickening and shrinking of the fascia, the layer of deep tissue just under the skin of the palm; as the tissue shrinks, the fingers may be drawn into a bent position.

E

Electromyography - an electromyography (EMG) records and analyzes the electrical activity in your muscles. It is used to learn more about the functioning of nerves in the arms and legs. For example, a fracture of the upper arm bone (humerus) may tear or pinch the radial nerve. An EMG can be used to identify the damage if nerve function doesn’t return within 4 months of the injury.

During an EMG, small, thin needles are placed in the muscle to record the electrical activity. When the needles are inserted, you may feel some pain and discomfort. The doctor will ask you to relax the muscle and then to tense it slightly. The electrical signals generated by your muscle are broadcast on a TV-like screen. When the needles are removed, you may experience some soreness and bruising, but this will disappear in a few days. There are no long-term side effects. If you are taking blood-thinning medications, have lung disease or are at risk for infection, tell the physician who is conducting the test. On the day of the test, do not put any lotions or creams on the area to be tested and do not wear any jewelry. Usually, you can get the results immediately after the test.

Epicondylitis - epicondylitis, also known as Tennis Elbow, occurs when there are small tears in the tendon that connect the forearm muscle to the arm bone at the elbow joint. Pain occurs on the outside of the elbow.

F

Fellowship - a fellowship is specialized training for a physician in a particular area of orthopedic focus.

Femur – thighbone.

Fibromyalgia (also called Fibrositis) - a chronic, widespread pain in muscles and soft tissues surrounding the joints throughout the body.

Flexibility Tests - flexibility tests are used to measure the range of motion in a joint and are often part of the physical examination. They may be used to help determine whether you have a muscle imbalance or arthritis in a joint. They may also be used to help determine the progression of a condition such as shoulder impingement or a sprain. There are several different kinds of flexibility tests, geared to specific joints and muscles. Your doctor may ask you to reach or bend or to move the affected extremity in a certain way. No preparation is required, and normally these tests are not painful.

Fracture - a break in a bone.

Frozen Shoulder - frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is caused when the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint contracts, forming scar tissue. This limits movement in the shoulder.

G

Ganglion Cysts - non-cancerous, fluid-filled cysts are common masses or lumps in the hand and usually found on the back of the wrist.

Gout - a result of a defect in body chemistry (such as uric acid in the joint fluid), this painful condition most often attacks small joints, especially the big toe. It can usually be controlled with medication and changes in diet.

H

Hammertoe - a permanent sideways bend in the middle toe joint.

Heel Spur - a bone growth on the heel bone.

Herniated Disc - a painful rupture of the outer cartilage of a disc that results when the cushion that lies between vertebrae in the spine is pushed outside its normal position; symptoms can include pain, weakness, and/or numbness in the legs (lumbar disc) or arms (cervical disc).

Hip Resurfacing - hip resurfacing preserves more of the patient’s natural bone, compared to total hip replacement. This allows for greater range in motion, and can decrease the chance of dislocation.

Humerus - the bone of the upper arm.

I

Inflammation - a normal reaction to injury or disease, which results in swelling, pain, and stiffness.

Internal Fixation - internal fixation is when the part of the body that is operated on is placed back into its normal anatomical position and held in place by an inserted device.

Intrathecal Contrast Enhanced CT Scan - this test uses contrast dye to better visualize the spinal canal and nerve roots in the spine. It may be used to help diagnose back problems such as spinal stenosis, particularly in patients with pacemakers or others who cannot have an MRI. The physician applies a numbing medication to the skin, which may sting for several minutes. The doctor uses X-ray guidance to inject a very low dose of contrast fluid (dye) into the spinal fluid. The CT scan is then administered. (See Computed Tomography.) Although no special preparations are required, strict bed rest is necessary for at least 24 hours after the test to prevent spinal headaches. These severe headaches can occur because some of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord may leak out through the injection site. The test itself may take several hours because it may take that long for the dye to reach the area of interest.

J

Joint - where the ends of two or more bones meet.

Joint Aspiration and Analysis - joint aspiration may be both a diagnostic test and a treatment option. In conditions such as bursitis, there is a fluid build-up that results in swelling and pressure. A similar fluid build-up around the joints can occur with injuries and arthritis.

Aspiration, or removing the fluid through a syringe, can reduce swelling and relieve pressure. The doctor will swab the skin with an antibacterial solution before inserting the aspirating needle. You may feel some pressure and pain as the needle is inserted, but this should be relieved as the fluid is removed.

After the test, your doctor may send the fluid to a laboratory for analysis. In an injury situation, there may be blood present in the fluid or fat droplets from bone marrow, which indicates the presence of a fracture. The analysis can also determine if the fluids result from an infection or an inflammatory response.

L

Laboratory Studies - laboratory studies of blood, urine or joint (synovial) fluids are used to identify the presence and amount of chemicals, proteins, and other substances. Your doctor may order various laboratory studies depending on what is found during the initial examination. For example, laboratory studies can identify the amount of uric acid in the blood, which is an indicator of gout. A high white blood cell count in joint fluid may indicate severe inflammation or infection. Laboratory tests are usually required before surgeries to identify medical abnormalities.

You may be required to fast for a specific number of hours before donating samples for a laboratory test.

Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) - the ligament that gives stability to the outer knee.

Lateral Epicondylitis (also known as Tennis Elbow) - pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist backward away from the palm.

Ligaments - a white, shiny, flexible band of fibrous tissue that binds joints together and connects various bones and cartilage.

M

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - an MRI (magnetic resonance image) uses magnetic fields and a sophisticated computer to take high-resolution pictures of your bones and soft tissues, resulting in a cross-sectional image of your body. It can be used to help diagnose torn muscles, ligaments and cartilage, herniated disks, hip or pelvic problems and other conditions. As with a CT scan, you lie on a table that slides into the tube-shaped MRI scanner. The MRI creates a magnetic field around you, then pulses radio waves to the area of your body to be imaged. The radio waves cause your tissues to resonate. A computer records the rate at which your body’s various parts (tendons, ligaments, and nerves) give off these vibrations, and translates the data into a detailed, two-dimensional picture. You won’t feel any pain while undergoing an MRI, but the machine may be noisy. An MRI takes 30 to 90 minutes, and is not available at all hospitals. Tell your doctor if you have implants, metal clips or other metal objects in your body before you undergo an MRI scan.

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) - the ligament that gives stability to the inner knee.

Medial Epicondylitis (also known as Golfer's Elbow, Baseball Elbow, Suitcase Elbow, or Forehand Tennis Elbow)- pain caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm.

Menisci - two crescent-shaped discs of connective tissue between the bones of the knees that act as shock absorbers to cushion the lower part of the leg from the weight of the rest of the body.

Morton's Neuroma - a pinched nerve that usually causes pain between the third and fourth toes.

Musculoskeletal System - the complex system involving the body's muscles and skeleton, and including the joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves.

Muscle Tests - because muscles are soft tissues, they do not appear on X-rays. So muscle testing is an important part of the physical examination. Weakness in a muscle may indicate injury to the tendons that connect the muscle to bone, injury to the nerves that enervate the muscle, or a generalized weakness of the muscle itself from disuse.

To test the strength of your muscles, your physician may ask you to move in certain ways while he or she applies a resistive force. For example, your physician may ask you to sit in a chair and then attempt to raise one knee as the doctor presses down on your upper leg. Or, your physician may hold your elbow at a 90-degree angle and ask you to bend your wrist down. Measuring grip strength by asking you to squeeze the doctor’s hand is another type of muscle test.

Myelogram - involves the injection of a dye or contrast media into the spinal canal; a specific x-ray study that also allows careful evaluation of the spinal canal and nerve roots.

N

Nerve Conduction Study (NCS) - nerve conduction studies are often done along with an electromyogram to determine if a nerve is functioning normally. It may be recommended if you have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or ulnar nerve entrapment. The doctor conducting the test will tape wires (electrodes) to the skin in various places along the nerve pathway. Then the doctor stimulates the nerve with an electric current. As the current travels down the nerve pathway, the electrodes placed along the way capture the signal and measure its speed. In healthy nerves, electrical signals can travel at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour. If the nerve is damaged, however, the signal will be slower and weaker. By stimulating the nerve at various places, the doctor can determine the specific site of the injury. Nerve conduction studies also may be used during treatment to test the progress being made. Although you may initially be startled by the suddenness of the stimulation, it is not usually painful and most people are comfortable during the testing procedure. The shock is similar to one received when you touch a doorknob after walking across carpeting.

O

Orthopaedic Surgeon (also called an Orthopaedist) - a physician who diagnoses, treats, manages the rehabilitation process, and provides prevention protocols for patients who suffer from injury or disease in any of the components of the musculoskeletal system.

Orthopaedic Surgery (also called Orthopaedics) - the medical specialty devoted to the diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention of injuries and diseases of the body's musculoskeletal system.

Orthotist – an allied health profession that involves the evaluation, fabrication and custom fitting of orthopedic braces.

Osteoarthritis - a condition caused by wear and tear that causes inflammation of the joint, causing swelling, pain, and stiffness.

Osteoporosis - a condition that develops when bone is no longer replaced as quickly as it is removed.

Overuse Conditions - injuries due to minor trauma involving soft-tissue injuries - injuries that affect the bone, muscles, ligaments, and/or tendons.

Osteotomy - osteotomy is the restructuring of the bone to shift stress from diseased tissue to more healthy tissue.

P

Peripheral Bone Density Testing - you’ve probably seen portable devices that determine bone mineral density at sites such as the wrist, the fingers, or the heel. Because they are small and cost less than other methods of testing bone density, these devices are frequently used for large-scale osteoporosis screenings. However, bone density varies among different skeletal sites, and bone density may be normal at one site and low at another site. Because these devices only test bone density in a specific site, they may miss indications of osteoporosis in other skeletal areas. In early postmenopausal years, bone density in the spine decreases first, and bone density at other sites does not begin to coincide until about age 70. Although these devices are considered accurate, they may not be precise enough to monitor patients undergoing treatment for osteoporosis. So, even if you have peripheral bone density is "normal," you may still need a more extensive bone density test to rule out osteoporosis.

Physical Examination - your physician can tell a lot about your health simply by looking at you. Obvious signs and symptoms include weak (atrophied) or asymmetrical muscles, improper alignment, swelling, changes in skin color (such as bruises or redness that might indicate inflammation) and growths such as cysts, calluses or corns. But the physical examination is much more than just a cursory look. It can also involve gait analysis (how you walk), palpation, muscle testing, flexibility (range of motion) testing, reflex response, and laboratory tests such as a complete blood count and urine analysis.

Palpation - palpation means touching. During the physical examination, your doctor may feel your joints to see if they are warm or swollen, signs of inflammation. He or she may apply pressure to a muscle or joint to identify an area of tenderness. Palpation can also be used to identify the location of growths such as tumors or cysts. A physician may place a hand over a joint and ask you to move the joint, particularly if you complain of a "popping" or "snapping" sensation. This enables the physician to feel the tendons as they move over the joint. If you have a joint dislocation, the doctor may palpate the area before attempting to realign the bones.

Patella - kneecap.

Pedothist - a pedothist is an allied health profession that is trained in pedothics, which is the design, manufacturing, modification and fit of footwear, including foot orthoses, to alleviate foot problems caused by disease, overuse or injury. 

Plantar Fascia - a long band of connecting tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) - the ligament, located in the center of the knee, that controls backward movement of the tibia (shin bone).

Posteromedial Shin Splint - a type of shin splint that affects the back and inner part of the muscles of the shin and is caused by running and/or by wearing inappropriate footwear.

Prosthesis - an artificial body part replacement.

Q

Quantitative Computed Tomography - quantitative computed tomography (QCT) is used to measure bone mineral density (BMD) for osteoporosis. It is similar to a normal CT scan, but uses a computer software package that determines bone density in the hip or spine. This technique provides for true three-dimensional imaging and reports BMD as true volume density measurements. This enables the physician to focus on a particular area. QCT uses a higher dose of radiation than the standard test for osteoporosis, the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry test, and may also be more expensive. (See Computed Tomography, Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry.)

R

Radius - the shorter of the two bones of the forearm.

Range of Motion Testing - range of motion tests may also be called flexibility tests. They are used to measure how well you can move a joint. Some joints like the thumb and shoulder have a wide range of motion, almost a complete circle. Other joints like the knee are like hinges and have a more limited range of motion. Range of motion tests may be active or passive. In active tests, you do all the movement. In passive tests, the doctor will hold the extremity and move it. He or she may also hold the next joint steady to isolate the movement of the joint being tested. For example, while you are seated, the doctor may hold your lower leg still while moving your heel in and out. (See Flexibility Tests.)

Rheumatoid Arthritis - an inflammatory disease that involves the lining of the joint (synovium). The inflammation often affects the joints of the hands and the feet and tends to occur equally on both sides of the body.

R.I.C.E. - Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Rotator Cuff - a group of muscles and tendons that connect the arm to the shoulder joint and enable the arm to rotate.

Rotator Cuff Tear - a rotator cuff tear occurs when there is an injury to one of the tendons in the rotator cuff.

S

Scoliosis - a lateral, or sideways, curvature and rotation of the back bones (vertebrae), giving the appearance that the person is leaning to one side.

Shin Splints - damage to one of two groups of muscles along the shin bone that cause pain.

Soft Tissues - the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the musculoskeletal system.

Sprain - a partial or complete tear of a ligament.

Strain - a partial or complete tear of a muscle or tendon.

Stress Fracture - a bone injury caused by overuse.

Synovial Fluid - a clear, sticky fluid that is released by the synovial membrane and acts as a lubricant for joints and tendons.

Synovectomy - synovectomy is the surgical removal of inflamed synovial tissue

Single Photon Absorptiometry - this type of bone density measurement test for osteoposis was developed in the early 1960s and is widely available. It is noninvasive, relatively inexpensive and reasonably accurate. However, because it generally measures bone in the lower leg or heel, rather than in the spine or hip, it is not as accurate as the dual-photon absorptiometry and the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry tests.

Stress Tests - a treadmill stress test measures the effectiveness of your cardiovascular system (your heart, lungs, and blood vessels). However, because your bones, muscles and connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) are constantly responding to stress (pressure or force), your orthopaedist may use applied stress to measure their response. For example, your doctor may hold your lower leg still with one hand and move your heel up and around with the other. This motion applies stress to the ligaments connecting the heel and your lower leg. Excessive or asymmetrical motion indicates that your ligaments are overstretched or loose.

T

Tendon - the tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones.

Tendonitis - an inflammation in a tendon or the tendon covering.

Tibia - shin bone or larger bone of the lower leg.

Total Joint Replacement - surgical procedures in which parts of an arthritic or damaged joint are removed and replaced with a prosthesis (a plastic or metal device)

Trigger Finger - an irritation of the digital sheath that surrounds the flexor tendons of the finger. When the tendon sheath becomes thickened or swollen it pinches the tendon and prevents it from gliding smoothly. In some cases, the tendon catches and then suddenly releases as though a trigger were released.

U

Ulnar Bone - the longer of the two bones in the forearm.

Ultrasonography - this is the same kind of test as the Doppler ultrasound, but without the audio effect.

V

Venography - venography is used to determine whether you have a blood clot in your leg, a condition called deep vein thrombosis. This is a serious condition because if the clot breaks free, it could travel to your lungs, creating a potentially fatal condition called pulmonary embolism.

In this test, a contrast solution (or dye) is slowly injected into your leg as you lie on a tilting X-ray table. The dye causes a warm, flushed feeling in the leg and might also make you feel nauseous. X-rays are taken to identify the location of the clot. After the test, a clear fluid is injected in the same spot to clear the dye from your veins. The test takes less than an hour and can be done on an outpatient basis.

You may be asked to fast or drink only clear liquids for 4 hours before the test. Because the contrast solution contains iodine, notify your doctor if you are allergic or have had a previous bad reaction to a contrast solution. You should not have venography if you have kidney (renal) problems. After the test, you should drink plenty of fluids to flush the remaining contrast solution from your system. You may experience some soreness, but notify your doctor if there is swelling, redness, pain or fever.

Although this test is very accurate, it is also invasive, painful and expensive. Additionally, complications such as phlebitis or tissue damage can occur. Usually, a doctor will try to use noninvasive tests to identify deep vein thrombosis before requesting a venography.

X

X-Ray - x-rays (radiographs) are the most common and widely available diagnostic imaging technique. Even if you just complain about a sprain in your wrist or ankle, your doctor will probably order radiographs to make sure no bone is broken. X-rays are always used for fractures and joint dislocations, and may also be recommended if your doctor suspects damage to a bone or joint from other conditions such as arthritis or osteonecrosis (bone cell death). The part of your body being pictured is positioned between the X-ray machine and photographic film. As you hold still, the machine briefly sends electromagnetic waves (radiation) through your body. This exposes the film, creating a picture of your internal structure. The level of radiation exposure from X-rays is minimal, but your doctor will take special precautions if you are pregnant. Bones, tumors and other dense matter appear white or light because they absorb the radiation. Soft tissues and breaks in bone let radiation pass through, making these parts look darker. Sometimes, to make certain organs stand out in the picture, you are asked to drink barium sulfate or be injected with a dye. Several X-rays from different angles may be needed. If you have a fracture in one limb, your doctor may want a comparison X-ray of your uninjured limb. Your X-ray session will probably take 10 to 15 minutes; no specific preparations are required.