Runner with 3digital leg showing xray

Sports imaging

Sports imaging is a specialised area of musculoskeletal radiology that supports both amateur and professional athletes. It covers both the diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries.

What is Sports Imaging used for?

If you experience a sports-related injury, doctors can use sports imaging to diagnose the problem. Certain types of injuries can then be treated using image-guided treatments.

Sporting injuries may be:
Acute – These include muscle, tendon or ligament injuries.
Or chronic, due to overuse, repetitive strain or degenerative conditions. These include stress fractures, arthritis, subacromial bursitis, plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinopathy.

Our doctors use sports imaging for people of all ages, across all types of sport and levels of play.

What Berkshire Imaging provides

Berkshire Imaging has seven high skilled musculoskeletal radiologists. We offer a comprehensive sports imaging service. The team has expertise in diagnostic musculoskeletal ultrasound, MRI and CT. In addition we specialise in image-guided therapeutic injections. We work closely with local orthopaedic surgeons, sports medicine physicians and physiotherapists.

For more advice on our Sports Imaging Service please contact us

Diagnostic sports imaging

Musculoskeletal Ultrasound Imaging:

Ultrasound is the primary approach used in the assessment of musculoskeletal disorders and sports injuries. It is usually the best radiology technique for assessing superficial structures, such as the Achilles or rotator cuff tendons. In addition it is very effective for  soft tissue lumps and inflammation within joints.

Our doctors use ultrasound to direct and guide diagnostic and therapeutic injections of steroid and local anaesthetic. The injections can be made into joints, bursae and surrounding tendons.

This can ease pain and reduce swelling. By using ultrasound as a guide, the radiologist is able to see the needle as it enters the body. This helps to ensure that the medication is delivered to precisely the right location, to maximise effectiveness of the treatment.

Unlike X-rays and CT scans, ultrasound does not use radiation, which makes this a very safe approach.

Musculoskeletal MRI Scans:

MRI uses a powerful magnetic field, radio waves and computer equipment to produce detailed pictures of internal body structures. It does not use radiation (X-rays). Berkshire Imaging has access to a highly specialised 3T MRI scanner – the only one in Berkshire.  3T MRI scanners generate a powerful magnetic field that is twice the strength of standard 1.5T scanners. These scanners produces exceptional image quality.

This means we can see internal structures in more detail and diagnose with greater accuracy. We may recommend using an MRI scan rather than ultrasound scan if symptoms are deeply located or diffuse. MRI typically provides more detailed images of joints than ultrasound, for example. It is often the best choice for examining the spine.

MRI scans can accurately diagnose:

  • Common conditions in the knee such as meniscal tears, ligament injuries and arthritis.
  • Common spinal conditions such as spinal stenosis, disc herniations and facet joint arthritis.

Sports Imaging Treatments

Image Guided Joint and Soft Tissue Injections

Our doctors use image guided joint and soft tissue injections to diagnose or treat certain types of musculoskeletal conditions. They can help to relieve pain, inflammation and other symptoms. By using specialist imaging equipment, the radiologist can see precisely where to inject. This ensures accuracy and maximum effectiveness of the treatment.

Your doctor may refer you for an image guided joint or soft tissue injection. They can be  helpful if you are experiencing pain and inflammation due to injury or illness. The technique is commonly used for problems affecting the shoulder, hip, wrist, hand, ankle, foot and knee.

Image Guided Nerve Root Injections

Doctors use image guided nerve root injections to diagnose and treat spinal nerves that have become inflamed due to irritation or pinching. The procedure involves injecting either anaesthetic or anaesthetic mixed with steroids close to the spinal nerve in the bony opening between the vertebrae (the intervertebral foramen).

This helps to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. No two patients are anatomically identical so imaging (normally ultrasound or fluoroscopy) is used to pinpoint the precise location of the nerve.

You might be offered this procedure if you have an inflamed spinal nerve due to a herniated disc, bony spurs causing nerve compression or a condition like scoliosis. The nerve may have become irritated or compressed resulting in pain, which may be severe. If more than one nerve is affected you may be given multiple nerve block injections.

Frequently asked questions – Sports Imaging

The local anaesthetic in the injection will take effect quickly – sometimes in as little as a few seconds, but certainly within a couple of minutes. The effects of the anaesthetic will wear off within around 8-12 hours. However, the steroid, while it is slower to act, provides a longer lasting benefit. It usually takes at least 2-3 days for the steroid to start working and it may be up to 2 weeks before you see any noticeable improvement.

The numbing effect of the local anaesthetic will wear off in 8-12 hours. The effect of the steroid is variable, but for most people it lasts between 3 – 6 months. In some cases, you may experience benefits for up to a year, while for some people they may only last for 2-3 weeks. It is impossible to say beforehand, unfortunately.

While most people find that they feel well enough to drive home after a joint or nerve root injection, we don’t recommend it as you may find that your joint or leg is quite numb following the local anaesthetic.

Additionally, certain vehicle insurance companies may not provide cover for 24 hours following an injection, so if you do decide to drive yourself home after your procedure, we advise checking your insurance policy.

We would advise resting for 48 hours following a joint injection or nerve root injection. During this time it is fine to do normal everyday household activities such as dressing yourself, walking around the house, brushing your teeth, brushing your hair, and so on.

We do not advise any heavy lifting (including large grocery bags, or weight training) for at least 48 hours after the injection. Repetitive use of the injected joint is also inadvisable. So, for example if you have had a finger injection, it would be best not to use that hand for DIY tasks or to do a lot of typing.

If you have had a nerve root or lower limb joint injection, you should avoid going on any long walks (further than a few hundred metres) for 48 hours.

After the initial 48 hours, you may cautiously see how your joint or back feel and increase activity as you feel comfortable. If in doubt, talk to your consultant radiologist.