As you sit in the doctor's office, you may notice pamphlets on all sorts of different complications and treatments. You may also come across information on diagnostic testing such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Computed Tomography, and Ultrasound. What do these words mean? Do you really need to have these tests done?
When seeing a podiatric physician for the first time, they almost always take x-rays. Weather you have toe pain or ankle pain, an x-ray can give the doctor valuable information. Since doctors are human, they cannot see what is happening inside of your body. X-rays are a rather inexpensive way to take a glance underneath the skin and screen for any issues. Often, x-rays tell the doctor enough to confirm a diagnosis and treatment plan but sometime the x-ray cannot provide a clear diagnosis.
The doctor must then order some more advanced studies. Computed Tomography (CT scan) is a more advanced form of traditional x-ray. A CT scan takes digital technology and combines it with x-ray to create cross sectional images of the body or foot. Imagine cutting your foot with an egg slicer and being able to visualize the bones and soft tissue layer by layer. This is exactly what is done with a CT scan. This allows the physician to more precisely examine the size and location of the issue or complication.
With a better understanding of the issue, the doctor can then better treat the issue. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a very popular diagnostic test. Rather than using x-rays, MRI uses a magnetic field and radiofrequencies to produce images of the body. Unlike x-rays or CT scans, MRIs do not emit any radiation. A MRI is often used to evaluate soft tissue injuries or suspected problems. Since the MRI functions via a magnet there are some limitations for patients with pacemakers, artificial valves or other foreign artifacts in the body.
Ultrasound is a very popular diagnostic test because it is real time imaging. This means that the test can be performed in the office and the results are seen immediately. The device looks much like the ultrasound used on pregnant women but they are not quite the same. Ultrasound used on the foot is done at a different frequency to better capture the structures in the foot rather than the uterus. In general the ultrasound sends out sound waves that, depending on the tissue, get absorbed or bounced back to the probe. The information collected from the hand held probe is transformed into an image on the computer.
Though there are many other tests available, these are the three most popular advanced imaging test utilized by podiatric physicians. Remember that your foot is attached to your body. There are many different pathologies that can arise. Everything from a tumor to a neuroma can appear in the foot. It is important that a podiatrist fully evaluates every condition to rule out some very serious conditions. These tests also help to evaluate the severity of common conditions which leads to more appropriate treatment.