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Musculoskeletal ultrasonography: Nomenclature, technical considerations, validation, and standardization

George AW Bruyn, MD, PhD
Section Editor
Robert H Shmerling, MD
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH


Ultrasonography (US), also referred to as ultrasound imaging or sonography, is an imaging modality that utilizes reflected pulses of high-frequency (ultrasonic) sound waves to assess soft tissues, cartilage, bone surfaces, and fluid-containing structures. US imaging, at one time the sole province of radiologists, has become now widely available in rheumatology clinics and other ambulatory and emergency settings.

The nomenclature, technical considerations, validity, and reliability of musculoskeletal US are discussed here. Imaging modalities generally used to diagnose disorders of the musculoskeletal system and guidelines for selecting imaging studies (eg, plain film radiography, computed tomography [CT scan], magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], and US) for selected musculoskeletal problems are presented separately. (See "Imaging techniques for evaluation of the painful joint" and "Imaging evaluation of the painful hip in adults" and "Radiologic evaluation of the painful shoulder in adults" and "Musculoskeletal ultrasonography: Clinical applications".)

The use of US to screen for, diagnose, and monitor the response of osteoporosis to treatment requires dedicated, special-purpose devices rather than US imaging systems to assess bone mineral content. (See "Screening for osteoporosis", section on 'Ultrasound'.)


Various terms are used to describe ultrasonographic (US) equipment, transducer and image orientation, normal and abnormal features in acquired images, and artifacts.

Types of ultrasonography

B-mode US — Brightness (B)-mode US or Grayscale US are terms indicating the same technique. They are used interchangeably.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 22, 2017.
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