What are Common Types of Orthopedic Imaging Tests?


If your aches and pains have landed you at an orthopedist’s office, you may be wondering what tests your doctor will use to diagnose your problem. Aside from taking a medical history and asking about your symptoms, there are several imaging tests that can help your doctor get a literal better picture of your body.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create high-resolution, 3D images of your body. Doctors often order MRIs to evaluate your soft tissues and bones. These tests are exceptionally accurate and the preferred tool for diagnosing injuries and disorders of the head, spine, joints, and limbs.

MRI exams are safe and painless. They do not expose patients to any radiation. However, because metal interferes with an MRI, you will need to tell your doctor if you have:

  • Brain aneurysm clips or surgical clips
  • A pacemaker or pacing wires
  • Metal fragments, metal sutures, shrapnel
  • Inner ear implants
  • Heart valves
  • Metal fragments in the eye

During an MRI, the patient lays motionless on a table that slides a tube-shaped MRI machine. The exam typically takes about an hour. The MRI machine will make a series of buzzing and beeping noises; these are normal. An orthopedic specialist can tell you more about what to expect during an MRI exam and how to prepare.


X-rays, or radiographs, are the most common type of diagnostic imaging test. X-rays work by shining a small amount of electromagnetic waves (radiation) through a body part to produce a 2D image of your bones and joints. The image is collected onto photographic film. The amount of radiation exposure during an X-ray is not harmful, but your doctor will take special precautions if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.

X-ray exams take only a few minutes. They are generally the first imaging test a doctor will order, even if you need more extensive testing later. For instance, you may need a 3D imaging test to get a complete understanding of your condition.


Ultrasound scans are simple tests that use high-frequency sound waves to see tendons that sit just beneath the skin. They are used in diagnosing issues such as an Achilles tendon injury, Baker’s cyst, or small tears. The test is not invasive and uses no radiation.

An orthopedic specialist will also use ultrasound machines during ultrasound-guided injections. With the use of an ultrasound machine, an orthopedic specialist is able to see exactly where an injection needs to be administered. With a more precisely targeted injection placement, the aggravated joints or inflamed areas can not only feel greater relief far more quickly, but also last far longer as well.

Other imaging tests

CT Scan. A computerized tomography (CT) scan is a test that uses x-rays and computer imaging to create a cross-sectional, or “slice,” image of your body. This type of imaging lets doctors see detailed pictures of organs, tissues, and tumors that are deep within your body. CT scans typically cost more and take more time than an x-ray. They are used to get much more detailed assessments of soft tissues such as tendons and ligaments.

Bone Scan. A bone scan uses mildly radioactive material to see areas of your body where there is increased bone activity, or inflammation. The material is injected into a vein and circulates throughout the entire body, and the scan is done several hours later. This exam is helpful in determining whether you have a healing fracture, bone tumor, or bone infection in any area of your body.

Find out more about what type of imaging and services Midwest Orthopedic Clinic provides and how we can best alleviate your pain.