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MRI, CT Scan, X-Ray, EMG… Houston Sports Med Doc Explains the Difference

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

Your Houston sports med doc has ordered a test to evaluate an issue you are experiencing. You’ve heard of a lot of different kinds of tests. But what are they and what do they tell the physician? Over the years as a Houston orthopedic physician, I’ve received these questions many a-time. Below, I’ve written down a few of the differences between and uses of four of some of the most common tests used in my field.

MRI. MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It is a large tube-like machine that uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create a high resolution image; the image can be 3D, allowing the health professional to look at various angles of the image. This non-invasive procedure lets your Houston sports med doc view joints and muscles for diagnostic and surgical purposes.

CT Scan. A CT scan is a series of x-ray views of the same body part taken from different angles. The x-rays are then processed by a computer to create a cross-section view of the injured body part (e.g. torn muscle or fractured bone).

X Ray. X-ray beams can painlessly pass through your body and provide a black-and-white picture of the internal structure, such as your bones. This is one of the most effective ways to see and diagnose a break or fracture of a bone – or to measure the density of your bones (i.e. checking for osteoporosis).

EMG. An EMG, or Electromyography, assesses the health of the muscles and the nerves or motor neurons that control the muscles. Motor neurons send electric signals that tell a muscle to contract or relax. An EMG uses electrodes, either as stickers on the skin or via needles inserted directly into a muscle, to transmit or detect electrical activity within a muscle. The EMG then translates these results into graphs that will be interpreted by your Houston orthopedic physician. The doctor evaluates the graphs to check for issues with muscle function or nerve-to-muscle communication. If you are experiencing tingling, numbness, muscle cramping or weakness, this test may be used to help diagnose the problem.

Schedule Your Appointment With a Houston Orthopedic Physician

If you have been recommended by another doctor to have one of these tests performed – or are experiencing injuries such as a suspected broken bone, torn ligament, or numbness and tingling – call Houston Institute for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics at (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.
Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.