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  • Writer's pictureSachin Bhat

Do you need a scan for your injury?

In the world of physiotherapy, the journey to recovery is often a blend of hands-on treatment, exercise prescription, and sometimes, diagnostic imaging. While not every condition requires a scan, there are specific scenarios where imaging can play a crucial role in ensuring an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan. This blog post will explore the indicators for diagnostic scans in physiotherapy management, types of scans, and how they contribute to optimising patient outcomes.

Understanding the Role of Diagnostic Imaging

Diagnostic imaging encompasses various types of scans, such as X-rays, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), CT (Computed Tomography) scans, and ultrasounds. These tools provide a visual understanding of what's happening inside the body, often offering valuable insights into the nature and extent of an injury or condition. However, the decision to refer a patient for a scan is guided by specific clinical criteria and the patient's unique presentation.

Indicators for Diagnostic Scans

1. Persistent or Unexplained Pain: When pain does not respond to initial physiotherapy interventions or is disproportionate to the clinical presentation, a scan may be indicated to uncover underlying causes such as fractures, tumors, or degenerative changes that cannot be assessed for with a physical examination alone.

2. Suspected Specific Pathology: Conditions such as stress fractures, ligament tears, muscle tears, or disc herniations may require imaging for confirmation and planning management. For example, an MRI is highly sensitive in detecting soft tissue injuries and can be crucial in the management of musculoskeletal conditions.

3. Pre-surgical Planning: In cases where surgery is a considered option, scans are necessary to provide surgeons with a detailed view of the area to be operated on, helping in planning the procedure and increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

4. Ineffective Progress with Treatment: If a patient's recovery plateaus or regresses without a clear reason, a scan can offer insights into whether there's an undiagnosed issue or if the current treatment approach needs adjustment.

Types of Scans and Their Roles in Management

- X-rays: Primarily used for viewing bones and joints, X-rays can detect fractures, bone diseases, and structural abnormalities. They are quick and widely available, making them a first-line imaging choice for many orthopaedic concerns.

- MRI: Offering detailed images of soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves, MRIs are invaluable in diagnosing soft tissue injuries and diseases. They are particularly useful for complex joint assessments.

- CT Scans: Able to view bone pathology from different angles, CT scans provide a more comprehensive picture than standard X-rays, especially for complex fractures and spinal issues.

- Ultrasounds: Real-time images of soft tissue structures make ultrasounds a go-to for assessing tendon tears, ligament injuries, and muscle conditions. Their dynamic nature allows for assessment during movement.


The decision to incorporate diagnostic imaging into physiotherapy management is a nuanced one, balancing the need for detailed diagnostic information with the goal of minimising unnecessary exposure to radiation and healthcare costs. A well-timed and appropriately chosen scan can significantly enhance the accuracy of diagnosis, tailor treatment interventions, and monitor progress, ultimately contributing to more effective patient care and better outcomes.

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