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Diagnostic Tests for Bone, Joint, Muscle, and Other Orthopaedic Problems

Whether you have joint pain or back pain, it can be tough to tell if it's a problem with a tendon, ligament, bone, muscle, or nerve. Our orthopaedic experts are here to help and will order the specialized test, or combination of tests, you need.

Our goal is to diagnose your problem as soon as possible. This allows us to determine the best treatment plan for you, and get you back to what's important — whether that's work, sports, or your favorite activity.

Diagnostic Tests and Procedures We Offer

At UPMC, we start with the most painless and safest tests that may diagnose your unique problem, and only recommend specialized tests when necessary.

We offer the following diagnostic tests.

  • Arthrogram — This test involves injecting a contrast dye into the joint before an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan. Contrast dye helps ligaments, tendons, and cartilage in the joint show up in greater detail on imaging. We use this test to diagnose tears or other signs of damage in tissues in the joint.
  • Arthroscopy — This surgical procedure involves inserting a tiny tube with a camera (called an arthroscope) into the joint to look for signs of damage or disease.
  • Bone scan — For this test, we inject a small amount of a radiotracer into a vein, which is then absorbed into the bones. A 3D image of the bones is then created by a special camera that records the small amounts of radiation produced by the radiotracer. Bone scans can identify suspected fractures, infections of the bone, bone tumors, or other problems not visible on an x-ray.
  • Bone density tests — This enhanced x-ray shows the level of density in the bone. The test produces minimal radiation — about the same amount people get outdoors in a day. Bone density tests help doctors diagnose and treat conditions like osteoporosis at an early stage.
  • Computed tomography (CT)  — A painless test that uses a series of x-rays to produce a 3D image of bones and soft tissues in the body.
  • Electromyography (EMG) — For this test, we insert small, thin needles into a muscle. These specialized needles can then record the electrical activity in the muscle, both at rest and when you tense the muscle. This helps us diagnose the reason for muscle weakness, cramping, and other problems.
  • MRI — This safe imaging technology produces detailed pictures using magnetic fields and radio waves. MRIs can show tissues, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and blood vessels in more detail than other imaging tests. For people with claustrophobia, UPMC offers open MRI units.
  • Myelographam —  For this test, we inject contrast dye into the spinal cord to better reveal the nerves and structure of the spine during an x-ray or CT scan. This helps us diagnose nerve compression caused by herniated discs, arthritis, or fractures.
  • Nerve conduction studies   This test measures how quickly an electrical signal travels from a nerve to a muscle. It helps pinpoint problems with the nerves, including nerve damage and carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound —  This specialized, safe, and painless exam uses reflected sound waves to produce an image of a body part. Ultrasounds of the joints can show problems with muscles, tendons,
  • ligaments, and nerves.
  • X-ray  —  In this quick and painless imaging test, very low-level radiation waves create images of the bones in the body. X-rays can detect broken or damaged bones or vertebra.