Patients with musculoskeletal diseases will benefit from advances in image analysis

Just a few short decades ago, musculoskeletal (MS) radiologists could only use technologies such as ultrasonography, radiology and nuclear medicine. By the time the 1970s came around there were some innovations in the field which helped enormously in the investigation of various MS diseases. Chief among these new technologies were magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT).

The 1990s

Even as recently as the 1990s, most people saw conventional radiography as the go-to method to image and investigate various diseases. It’s still the case that these older methods can be very useful when it comes to looking at changes in bone growth and density, which are often the hallmarks of MS diseases.

It was still thought, however, that imaging tech wasn’t enough by itself to identify and monitor the changes caused by disease. Doctors also used physical examinations, patients’ self-reports, lab testing and the body of evidence from previous research to back up their findings from imaging.

It’s less invasive nowadays

Now, thanks to the tech and software from companies like, the diagnosis and monitoring of MS diseases is much less invasive, it’s also more accurate as the internal anatomy and its structures are ever-more visible and we get an objective analysis of what’s going on inside, rather than subjective pain reporting, for example.

What’s in the armoury?

CT is often used to detect and assess the sometimes very complex lines and geometry of tri-plane fractures. This helps doctors to work out which patients will need surgery and which ones won’t.

MRI scans are invaluable when it comes to looking at segments of soft tissue and bone. This tech is useful for finding soft tissue problems cause by sickle cell anaemia, for example. It’s also used to look for muscle damage and for areas of acute damage from more chronic diseases, as well as for conditions like bursitis and synovitis.

MRI has also been brought on board to look for and assess abnormalities in bone marrow, but there are still issues here because the signals used can’t “drill down” far enough to discriminate between systemic and neoplastic images and origins.

A multi-modal approach

Disease is examined and treated with a combination of information from all the tech at our disposal now. Once, MRI was used to diagnose disease or injury only if it was backed up with an X-ray. It wasn’t trusted enough to be used alone. Now, however, we can see how the different modalities complement each other to help us understand pathological processes even more.

This doesn’t mean that doctors only see these images, though. When an abnormality is found, it’s important to find the root cause, as well as to assess how long ago it formed or started. If a causal relationship can be established between the etiology of a condition and the findings on a scan, looking further afield for chemical changes, for example, can improve the understanding of diseases and lead to ways of early diagnosis.

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