What to Expect During an Ultrasound of a Muscle, Tendon, Ligament or Joint

For most ultrasounds of the musculoskeletal system, you are seated on an examination table or a swivel chair. In other cases, you are positioned lying face-up on an examination table that can be tilted or moved.

A clear water-based gel is applied to the area of the body being studied to help the transducer make secure contact with the body and eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin. The sonographer (ultrasound technologist) then presses the transducer firmly against the skin and sweeps it over the area of interest.

The sonographer or radiologist is often able to review the ultrasound images in real-time as they are acquired and you can be released immediately. There may be an occasion, however, where you are asked to dress and wait while the ultrasound images are reviewed.

Time Consideration

This ultrasound exam is usually completed within 15-30 minutes.

Other Factors

Most ultrasound examinations are painless, fast and easy.

There is usually no discomfort from pressure as the transducer is pressed against the area being examined.

If scanning is performed over an area of tenderness, you may feel pressure or minor pain from the transducer.

The radiologist or sonographer may ask you to move the extremity being examined or may move it for you to evaluate not only anatomy but also function of a joint, muscle, ligament or tendon.

Once the imaging is complete, the gel will be wiped off your skin.

After an ultrasound exam, you should be able to resume your normal activities within a few hours.

Limitations of a Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

Ultrasound has difficulty penetrating bone and therefore can only see the outer surface of bony structures and not what lies within. For visualizing internal structure of bones or certain joints, other imaging modalities such as MRI are typically used.

Ultrasound has not proven useful in detecting whiplash injuries or other causes of back pain.