Making a Back Pain Diagnosis: Ultrasound

If you were a sufferer of severe acute back pain, then you are probably familiar with X-rays, which is the first test back pain patients usually get after a physical examination. If you are a chronic back pain patient, then you are also familiar with either the CT Scan or the MRI, which both offered more detailed images for looking at soft tissue damage associated with chronic pain. Ultrasounds are also useful diagnostic tools for looking at soft tissue damage associated with chronic back pain. Ultrasounds (also called sonograms) work by emitting high-frequency sound waves and bouncing those waves off tissues in the body. Some tissues are more reflective because of their density and chemical makeup. For instance, we know that denser tissues are more reflective than those that are less dense, such as the cartilage tissue in joints. Ultrasound, unlike X-Rays, are better at producing images and video of ligament and tendons on viewing screens. These sonograms of the ligaments and tissues produce detailed enough images for distinguishing those that are structurally sound from those that are torn or injured. These scans enable doctors the ability to not only view the soft tissues in high resolution, but also in 3-D detail. This technology offers doctors the opportunities to see three dimensional detail in ultrasound images that might not be available in Computed Tomography (CT) Scans or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Ultrasound may be successful in diagnosing the source of the problem for patients who remain with chronic joint pain or back pain despite previous medical images that did reveal a clear pain generator.

Ultrasounds are generally cheaper that CTs and MRIs and involve much less radiation then you would receive with CTs. Ultrasounds may not be as good as those tests at detecting some types of soft tissue injuries. Also, when joints lie beneath denser tissues, the image reflected back at the computer screen may not be able to provide clear images of the soft tissues beneath with good clarity. Despite these limitations, ultrasounds are useful for specific types of diagnostic tests, and for real-time imaging while certain therapies are being performed. For example, ultrasounds are useful in guiding certain types of treatments or therapies - including regenerative injection therapies like prolotherapy, to find the precise location of the soft tissue damage.

Ultrasound is also used today as a therapy, with certain types of soft tissue injuries. The theory behind ultrasound as a therapy is that the high frequency sound waves produced by the ultrasound warms the areas that are injured and increases blood flow to those areas. The result of increased blood flow may help to initiate the healing process or accelerate the healing process. The increase in blood flow enables the injured tissues to receive more oxygen and nutrients to promote the replacement of damages cells with new healthy ones.

Ultrasound is now losing favor as a treatment tool in MD medicine but is still popular with chiropractors. Ultrasound is still a popular tool for abnormalities in the kidneys and gallbladder, where painful stones can develop are difficult to pass through the ducts of the body. Ultrasound is used to break up kidney stones and gall stones.