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Foot and ankle

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Ankle and foot scans 101: foot medical imaging & more

Ankle and foot pain can be very frustrating, not to mention debilitating. We rely on our feet and ankles to perform most of our everyday activities. Therefore, ankle and foot pain can seriously impact our quality of life.

According to the American Pediatric Medical Association, 77% of Americans have foot pain. This pain can range from mild to severe. Pain can increase when performing exercise or if too much weight is put onto the foot. This can make even simple tasks like walking, standing, and working very difficult.

It's common for people to disregard foot and ankle pain as something insignificant, such as a rolled ankle. However, some underlying medical conditions could be causing the degeneration of the joint, and with that comes discomfort. A foot and ankle scan is an effective diagnostic tool to diagnose a wide range of ankle and foot conditions.

Why do I need an ankle and foot scan?

The ankle is a complex joint with many bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. The foot also experiences a considerable amount of stress and force daily. Therefore, if you are experiencing any pain, particularly unexplained or worsening pain, you may need an ankle scan to find out what is happening inside the joint. It's essential to have the following symptoms checked out by a doctor:

  • Swelling.
  • Numbness.
  • Grinding.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Pain that worsens when weight is applied.
  • Weakness.

A physical exam can identify if you need further investigation into the cause of your pain.

What does a foot and ankle scan show?

The foot and ankle is a small area home to 26 bones and over 30 joints. Since it's made up of so many structures, it's hard to get an accurate picture of the inner-workings through a physical exam alone. A foot and ankle scan will show:

  • Bones.
  • Muscles.
  • Ligaments and tendons.

Any abnormalities within these structures will be captured through a foot and ankle scan. These include:

  • Tendon tears.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Inflammation.
  • Ligament sprains.
  • Soft tissue masses.
  • Ganglion cysts.

Common causes of ankle and foot pain

There are a few reasons you may be experiencing foot or ankle pain. It could be the result of injury or a possible underlying medical condition.


Osteoarthritis is a medical condition that affects the cartilage between two joints. It causes the cartilage to wear down, and with no soft cushion in between, the bones begin to rub together. Osteoarthritis can result in sudden pain in the ankle and can get worse as the condition progresses over time.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation in the joints. The condition causes pain in the foot and ankle without injury.


Lupus is a disease that forces your body to attack its tissue. The condition causes inflammation and fluid build-up in the ankle joint.

Achilles tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis is a medical condition that causes sudden pain at the back of the heel. The situation occurs when your achilles tendon begins to develop minor tears due to strain.


Ankle fractures could be caused by an injury or accident resulting in bone breakage. Fractures in the ankle may result in pain and swelling around the ankle and foot.


One of the leading causes of ankle and foot pain is sprains. Ankle sprains may arise due to ligament tear or stretch.

Other common causes of ankle and foot pain are:

  • Flatfoot.
  • Gout.
  • Arthritis.
  • Bursitis.
  • Tendonitis.

Medical imaging scans for foot and ankle pain

Medical imaging scans for the foot and ankle can capture the intricate bones and soft tissues in great visual detail. These images can provide doctors the insight needed to diagnose your foot and ankle pain. There are a few different types of foot and ankle scans, each having specific benefits for diagnosing foot and ankle pain.

Foot and ankle MRI scan

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is a powerful medical imaging tool that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to generate images of the foot and ankle. An MRI ankle scan will be able to show:

  • Bones.
  • Muscles.
  • Ligaments.
  • Tendons.
  • Cartilage.
  • Nerves.
  • Blood vessels.
  • These high-quality images are taken across three different angles.

This gives the radiologist–a doctor specializing in interpreting medical scans–the ability to see small areas of inflammation, deterioration, or fractures.

CT scan of the foot and ankle

Foot and ankle ultrasound

An ultrasound imaging scan uses sound waves to produce detailed images of the foot and ankle. A foot and ankle ultrasound is excellent at viewing the soft tissues around the joint. This makes them valuable at diagnosing:

  • Tendon tears
  • Bursitis
  • Tendon and ligament strains
  • Swelling or inflammation
  • Ultrasounds can also detect small fractures near the surface of the bone

How long does a foot and ankle scan take?

The time it takes for a foot and ankle scan depends on the type of scan you receive. An MRI scan for the foot and ankle tends to take between 60 to 90 minutes. A CT scan takes about 45 minutes, while a complete ultrasound takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Find a foot or ankle medical imaging center near me

If you are experiencing foot or ankle pain, it’s important to have a doctor examine it. If you require a diagnostic imaging scan, check out scan.com’s scan search tool to find a provider that suits your personal budget and scan needs. The easy-to-navigate tool will be able to help connect you with a medical imaging center near you.


  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/foot-pain#causes
  2. https://www.dominionfootandankle.com/patient-resources/diagnostic-procedures-orthotics/
  3. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-survey-reveals-majority-of-americans-suffer-from-foot-pain-259775741.html
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/foot-pain/basics/causes/sym-20050792
  5. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/where-it-hurts/anatomy-of-the-foot

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