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What is diagnostic imaging testing and when is it needed?

When dealing with pain of any sort, physical therapists and medical doctors have a number of tools at their disposal to help determine the cause and what needs to be done to address it. A thorough physical examination that involves a variety of objective and subjective assessments of strength, flexibility, balance, and other variables is always the first and most important step of reaching an accurate diagnosis. But in some cases, additional testing may also be performed.

If your doctor is still uncertain of what is causing your pain or if a severe injury was sustained, she may recommend having a diagnostic imaging test to obtain more information. These non–invasive techniques let the doctor see inside your body to get a clearer picture of your bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This can help to determine if any of these structures look damaged and are possibly contributing to your pain. Diagnostic imaging tests include x–rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which all use slightly different methods to produce images of the internal structures of the body.

  • X–rays
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Other

Each of these techniques can serve a unique and important role in the diagnosis of many conditions, but there are only certain situations in which they should be used. In our next newsletter, we’ll look into why diagnostic imaging tests are being overused and the downsides of this ongoing trend.

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