When To Get A Scan

Scans. Some doctors, physio's, chiros, etc are 'scan happy' and want to scan for everything, while others are more conservative with their approach to getting a scan. Here we look at the when we believe it's appropriate to get a scan of any sort.

Before we get a look into the reasons behind why we would want to get a part of our body scanned, we need to know which scans are relevant to your injury.

There are 3 main types of scan that your physiotherapist may refer you off for - MRI, X-ray & CT Scan.


This type of imaging is effective for revealing damage to articular and other aspects of the joints, bone disruption and soft tissue injuries such as tendon, ligament and muscle tears.


Our go to option for any bone injury or looking at space between joints. Breaks, fractures and stress injuries to our bones are mostly what we are looking to see when looking at an X-ray. Also effective in other fields of physiotherapy to see lung space and pick up any pathology within the chest.

CT Scan

This type of scan picks up a little bit of everything. Bone and soft tissue but also vascular and cancerous tissues can be imaged using the CT option.

So, now that we know a little about how the scans differ....when should you get scanned?

All too often we see people getting sent off for scans unnecessarily. The radiation and effects of the scans are not healthy to begin with so limiting the expose is important but also quite often a scan will only reveal pathologies that we can already guess will be there. For example, an adult who has played lots of sport or been very active can have a completely pain-free joint but if scanned will find some ‘degenerative change’ or ‘lose of joint space’ or even labral tears etc. Now these phrases and words can seem serious and daunting but often times they don’t correlate to any specific symptoms and are just part of the ageing, wear and tear process.

What we see a lot of is that people aren’t getting a good screening, or not being physically assessed, for specific structures that will direct us to a specific type of imaging. This means that quite often people are getting an X-ray done for something that only an MRI can pick up or someone can clear a fracture/bone injury with a scan but have ended up having an MRI anyway. So my advice here is to first seek out a good assessment of the area that is injured so that you can save time, money and the hassle of having to jump between multiple scanning techniques.

Another time that sending someone for a scan is important is if conservative treatment (strengthening, soft tissue work, postural correction etc.) isn’t changing or improving the pain/injury. When this occurs it is sometimes a good idea to jump into a specific scan as that can give us a better picture of the extent of the injury and change out treatment strategy slightly. However, if you know that a scan will not change our treatment strategy at all then it is pointless to go and get one. For example, if you have a niggling shoulder injury that presents as a tendon issue when being assessed, the management and rehab of that will be a thorough strengthening and loading program. If we got a scan and it confirms to us that it is that tendon damage as well as some joint issue, then the rehab is still the same, a strength and loading program so therefore that scan was really quite pointless.

All too often people are wasting time and money, as well as being exposed to high levels of radiation when getting scans done for injuries which are either not relevant to that scan or don’t need to be imaged. The most important thing to know with any injury is that being assessed by a well training health professional will more often than not be enough to diagnose and begin a treatment plan without any imaging required.

Do you have any aches or pains that you want to get checked out? Book in online here to see one of our Physio's today, or call us (08) 9448 2994.

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