Wrist

Wrist pain 101: wrist medical imaging & more

The wrist is a unique joint that can rotate 360-degrees. It’s essential for everyday movements like writing and picking up objects. The joint consists of bones, cartilage, and other soft-tissue structures that allow for a full range of motion.

When an injury to the wrist occurs, it can make it difficult to perform daily activities. It can be frustrating and debilitating to experience a wrist injury or wrist pain. If you're experiencing wrist pain or have recently experienced suspected injury to your wrist, it's essential that you see a doctor as soon as possible to receive a thorough physical examination. Due to the joint's complexity, the best way to identify the cause of wrist pain is often through a wrist scan.

Why do I need a wrist scan?

There are several reasons why you may need a wrist scan. Injuries to the wrist are significant reasons for getting a wrist scan. With so many small bones, nerves, tendons, and ligaments located in the hand and wrist, it can be hard to see the cause of pain. If you are experiencing sudden or worsening wrist pain, a wrist scan is one of the doctors’ best tools to diagnose the issue. Wrist scans are also helpful in seeing how a previous injury is healing or determining the severity of a new injury.

What does a wrist scan show?

The wrist is an ellipsoidal joint, meaning it can move on all sides. A wrist scan will capture images of the inner soft tissues and bones making up the lower forearm, the wrist, and the hand.

These structures include:

  • Ends of radius and ulna
  • Carpal bones
  • Portions of metacarpal bones
  • Ligaments
  • Nerves
  • Cartilage
  • Muscles

By giving doctors an inside glimpse of the wrist joint, they can make an accurate diagnosis for your wrist pain or injury. The first step in recovering from wrist pain or injury is finding the root cause of your ailment and developing a proper treatment plan with your physician.

What are the common causes of wrist pain?

The wrist has different soft tissues, all converging in a small location. Therefore, wrist pain can have many causes. These can include:

  • Bone fractures
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Ligament tears
  • Pinched nerves
  • Sprains and strains

Due to the complex location of the wrist, it’s easy for different wrist pain-related conditions to share similar pain symptoms. This makes it challenging for doctors to determine the exact cause of your wrist pain simply from the external appearance, making wrist scans critical in accurate diagnosis and treatment of wrist pain or injury. A physical wrist examination combined with a wrist scan will allow your doctor to see any damage that could be the culprit behind your wrist pain.

Types of wrist scans

Although wrist scans help show abnormalities and damage within the radiocarpal joint or the wrist joint, not all scans are the same. Doctors prefer to use different types of scans than others in specific instances.

CT scan of the wrist

CT scans use a focused X-ray beam to generate images of the joints, muscles, and other soft tissues in the wrist. The pictures of the interior of the wrist let radiologists, doctors who specialize in reading scans, identify areas of damage or injury. CT wrist scans are a quick and effective way to see any foreign objects, fractures, inflammation, or deterioration within the joint.

MRI scan of the wrist

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans use a powerful magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to generate images of the wrist. The MRI takes pictures across 3 planes:

  • Sagittal
  • Axial
  • Coronal

These different planes let the computer create a 3D image of the wrist. Although similar to a CT scan, an MRI scans provide greater detail. MRI images can show details of the nerves, blood vessels, cartilage, and various bones and ligaments within the wrist that other medical imaging tests cannot identify.

Ultrasound scan of the wrist

Ultrasounds use sound waves that form images of the internal structure of the wrist. The ultrasound machine records data of the sound waves bouncing off different tissues and uses this data to form images of the inside of your wrist. An ultrasound technician will then give these images to a radiologist to interpret the results.

How long does a wrist scan take?

The small area of the wrist means a scan of this area of the body may take less than that of a larger part of the body. However, the length of time is dependent on the type of scan being performed.

  • CT scans tend to last 15 to 20 minutes
  • MRI scan tend to last 20 to 30 minutes
  • Ultrasound scan tend to last about 30 minutes

How much does a wrist scan cost?

The cost of a wrist scan depends on a few factors. These include:

  • The type of scan being performed
  • Insurance coverage
  • Insurance carrier
  • Insurance copay
  • The location where the scan will take place

However, on average, a wrist scan may cost between $600 to $3000. Ultrasounds are typically less expensive than other scans, and MRIs are the most expensive since they take detailed images. Insurance will usually cover medically-necessary wrist scans, so be sure to contact your insurance company before receiving a wrist scan to determine the full breadth of your coverage.

Find a wrist scan medical imaging center near me

One of the additional stressors of needing a wrist scan is finding where to go for the procedure. You can find a reputable wrist scan center near you by using scan.com’s scan search tool.


Resources:

  1. https://www.appliedradiology.com/articles/mri-of-the-wrist
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/wrist-pain#_noHeaderPrefixedContent
  3. https://www.biologyonline.com/dictionary/ellipsoidal-joint
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/MRI-planes-for-MRI-head-scan-a-Axial-b-Coronal-c-Sagittal-MR-scanner-can-generate_fig2_338448026

FAQs

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Yes, a wrist scan can show broken bones. Although ultrasounds are not the ideal scans for diagnosing broken bones, they can still show surface-level fractures. To see deeper or more severe breaks, you may need to receive an X-ray, CT, or MRI scan.

Yes, you can receive a wrist scan without insurance. However, the prices for a scan without insurance range may vary depending on your chosen scan center and the type of scan you get.