A bone scan is a form of nuclear imaging that allows physicians to diagnose and then track several different bone diseases. Physicians will typically order a bone scan when a patient is experiencing otherwise unexplainable skeletal pain. Typically skeletal pain will suggest bone infection, bone loss or bone injury. However, if the cause of the pain cannot be found on a traditional X-ray, then this is an indicator that a bone scan should be performed. This procedure involves injecting a radioactive material into the vein then using a camera to detect how the radiation is moving through the body. The amount of radiotracer that is allowed to collect in the bones gives clues to what is occurring within the body.
Bone scan is recommended in situations where no other exam is producing a diagnosis. Most bone-related illnesses and injuries are diagnosable using X-ray, MRI scan or CT scan. If a patient has symptoms that indicate a bone issue and these scans are not producing results, the physician will recommend a bone scan in order to take a different look at the same structures.
Patients with unexplained bone pain can benefit from bone scans as one possible way to determine the underlying cause of their discomfort. Some examples of abnormalities that a bone scan will pick up include: impaired blood supply to the bones, fibrous dysplasia, joint infection, joint replacement infection, bone cancer, cancer which has metastasized into the bone, Paget's disease in the bone, arthritis and fracture.