What is the role of imaging studies in the workup of bursitis?

Updated: Dec 11, 2020
  • Author: Kristine M Lohr, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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Plain radiography usually is not helpful in the diagnosis of bursitis but may be useful for identifying osteophytes or other underlying bony pathology (eg, fractures or dislocations) that may be triggering the bursal inflammation. They may also show joint effusions. In chronic bursitis, the bursal walls or nearby tendons may be calcified and radiopaque.

Bone scanning is not a sensitive test for bursitis, but it may be done in cases in which the diagnosis is unclear to rule out other causes of pain.

Because of the characteristic clinical presentation of bursitis, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) are usually unnecessary. MRI can be useful for delineating the anatomy of the entire joint (including adjacent soft tissues) and depicting bursal or prebursal fluid and associated abscesses [26] ; if needed, it is a very sensitive test for identification of bursitis. MRI is also helpful in ruling out suspected solid tumors and defining pathology for possible surgical excision.

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