High-resolution ultrasound in the evaluation of musculoskeletal infections

Jennifer S. Weaver1, Imran Omar2, Katherine Epstein3, Alana Brown4, Nicholson Chadwick5, Mihra S. Taljanovic6,7

Affiliation and address for correspondence
J Ultrason 2023; 95: e272–e284
DOI: 10.15557/JoU.2023.0034
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Soft tissue and osseous musculoskeletal infections are common but can be difficult to diagnose clinically. Signs, symptoms, and physical examination findings may be nonspecific, and laboratory values can be inconclusive. The extent of disease may also be underestimated on physical examination. Soft tissue infections most commonly occur secondary to direct inoculation from broken skin and less frequently due to the seeding of the soft tissues from hematogenous spread, while osseous infections are more commonly due to hematogenous seeding. Infections may also be iatrogenic, following surgery or other procedural interventions. High-resolution ultrasound is an extremely useful imaging modality in the evaluation of musculoskeletal soft tissue and joint infections, and can occasionally be used to evaluate osseous infections as well. Ultrasound can aid in the early diagnosis of musculoskeletal infections, allowing for prompt treatment, decreased risk of complications, and treatment optimization. Ultrasound is sensitive and specific in evaluating soft tissue edema and hyperemia; soft tissue abscesses; joint, bursal and tendon sheath effusions/synovitis; and subperiosteal abscesses. This article describes the typical high-resolution grayscale as well as color and power Doppler ultrasound imaging findings of soft tissue infections including cellulitis, fasciitis, necrotizing deep soft tissue infection, pyomyositis, soft tissue abscess, infectious bursitis, and infectious tenosynovitis. Ultrasound findings of septic arthritis as well as osteomyelitis, such as subperiosteal spread of infection (subperiosteal abscess). are also reviewed. In addition, the use of ultrasound to guide fluid and tissue sampling is discussed.

US; cellulitis; fasciitis; abscess; osteomyelitis