When dealing with musculoskeletal injuries, speedy diagnosis and treatment are important. A physical medicine and rehabilitation expert at Baylor College of Medicine now uses ultrasound technology to treat these issues in a clinical setting.
"Musculoskeletal ultrasound is like a stethoscope for the musculoskeletal system," said Dr. John Harrell, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at BCM. "It has no known side effects, and it allows us to image soft tissues in real time. I can see tendons, ligaments, joints, muscles and nerves in the clinic setting."
The technology allows Harrell to show patients what he sees in the ultrasound and see how tissues respond as the patient moves around, something you cannot get with a stationary MRI.
Harrell uses this tool to diagnose and treat a variety of tendon, muscle and ligament disorders, including rotator cuff problems, muscle tears, chronic tendon problems, running injuries and superficial nerve compressions.
Once Harrell diagnoses the problem, treatment can begin the same day and in the same clinic. The technology is also useful when treating the problem area with something like a steroid injection. He uses it to guide his needles and view his target treatment area, allowing for more precise treatment.
"It allows us to do some things that we might not have been able to do in the past because you just couldn't see that well," said Harrell. "I can be certain of where I am putting the medicine."
Enables new treatments
He is also able to perform new treatments that were not previously available, such as hydrodissection, which is used to free compressed nerves. In this treatment, he injects fluid around the compressed nerve to help free the nerve up.
When Harrell deals with an issue such as shoulder pain, where there could be several reasons for the pain, he can go in and numb an area that is the most likely cause of the pain and then evaluate the patient if the patient is feeling better, he knows that's the area that needs to be treated. If not, he knows to try another area.
"We can be very specific in our diagnosis using ultrasound," said Harrell. "It allows you to evaluate the patient, see the lesion, make the diagnosis and initiate the treatment all in the same visit. It's a very complete way to move things along."
Harrell sees patients at the Baylor Clinic, 6620 Main St., Thursdays from 1-5 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call (713) 798-6198.