sports medicine diagnostic imaging

Diagnostic Imaging for Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) Specialists

Diagnostic Imaging for Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) Specialists


Sports physicians and radiologists work together to quickly diagnose and treat the musculoskeletal injuries associated with frequent physical exertion. Still, sport and exercise medicine (SEM) remains a young specialty — it wasn’t until 2005 that the United Kingdom’s Department of Health granted SEM official specialty status.


So it’s a good time to ask the question, both of sports physicians and radiologists themselves: How can this close working relationship improve as both specialties develop? What exactly do sports physicians need from their diagnostic imaging providers, and how can those providers tweak their processes to work better with SEM specialists and their patients?


Here are a few thoughts, culled from the extant literature:

  1. Help provide actionable images to help decide when it’s safe for athletes to return to the field
  2. Assist with screening efforts and pre-play assessments;
  3. And they can provide “technical assistance with certain procedures.


Diagnostic imaging providers have much more to offer SEM physicians than confirmation of a given diagnosis.



According to I. McCurdie, FRCP, FFSEM(UK), writing in the British Journal of Radiology in 2012, “confirmation of accurate diagnosis” is only the first area in which radiologists can support sports physicians. They can also:


Sports physicians, in other words, need access to imaging providers who can respond to a wide range of needs. It makes sense for an SEM specialist to create relationships with established, trustworthy networks of imaging providers like Precise Imaging. With the range of expertise, simple systems for billing and referral, and an online portal just for physicians, Precise Imaging can respond to the immediate needs of SEM specialists and their patients.


Elite athletes often need incredibly quick turnaround on radiology reports.


When high-level athletes get injured, their managers want them back on the field as soon as it’s safe. Team physicians typically don’t have time to wait for a several-day turnaround to get their radiology reports.


Radiologists must be physically present, at imaging facilities or even on the field, in order to produce accurate reports a quickly as possible. Precise Imaging radiologists always work on-site at their facilities, and they average a turnaround of 24 hours, with available same-day referral service.



Sports physicians require access to multiple imaging modalities from the same provider.



“The range of pathologies and different tissues injured during sport and exercise determine the imaging modalities used,” writes McCurdie. “With soft-tissue injuries being common, the opportunity to image with ultrasound during functional movements (often as an extension of the clinical examination) and avoid any exposure to irradiation makes this a very useful tool.”


At the same time, MRI scans reveal soft-tissue injuries and have been successfully used to diagnose muscle damage accurately. Still, many physicians prefer to begin diagnostic imaging efforts with radiography.


“Plain X-ray should still generally be the first imaging technique,” wrote John Orchard et. al in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2005. In that article, “The use of diagnostic imaging in sports medicine,” Orchard and the other authors pointed out a few exceptions to the guideline of defaulting to X-ray.


“Exceptions include some forms of superficial tendinopathy, in which ultrasound may be more appropriate, and situations where radiation exposure is contraindicated, such as in a pregnant patient,” they wrote.


Precise Imaging locations offer multiple imaging modalities, often with a full range of options for each. So patients with musculoskeletal injuries associated with sports and exercise can visit a single outpatient clinic for ultrasound, X-ray, MRI, and/or CT scans, all with simple, convenient scheduling.



While all imaging modalities have their uses in sports medicine, MRI scans are sometimes crucial for the diagnosis of one of the most common knee injuries in sports: the ACL tear.



Klass et al. point out that MRI scans are a central component to care for patients with chronic knee conditions. In their literature review, though, the authors found that MRI was increasingly paying dividends in cases of acute injury, particularly a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).  

Of course, physicians can often diagnose ACL injuries without the use of MRI technology. However, Klass and colleagues conclude, “It should be realised that significant advances are being made, and that there may be an increasing use of MRI in the management of the acutely injured knee which will include rupture of the ACL.”


Precise Imaging for Patients of SEM Specialists


SEM physicians and their patients benefit from diagnostic imaging facilities that:   


  1. Are capable of multiple imaging modalities;
  2. Remain available for expanded hours, including weekends and evenings;
  3. Offer quick, simple scheduling, including same-day service and ride assistance;
  4. Employ radiologists with experience in musculoskeletal injuries associated with sports and exercise, who carry full board certification, and who work on-site at the place of testing;
  5. Are able to handle a variety of payment types, including insurance, Medicaid and Medicare, personal injury liens, and even low cash options for uninsured patients;
  6. Operate large networks of outpatient clinics, ensuring availability and flexible scheduling.


Patients under the care of an SEM specialist will benefit from the friendly and efficient service of the Precise Imaging team. If you’re a referring physician and you’re looking for a new imaging partner to help with a sports and exercise medicine practice, contact Precise Imaging at 800-558-2223 today.




Cullen M, Batt M. Sport and exercise medicine in the United Kingdom comes of age. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005;39(5):250-251. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2005.019307


Gibbs NJ, Cross T, Cameron M, Houang MT. The accuracy of MRI in predicting recovery and recurrence of acute grade one hamstring muscle strains within the same season in Australian Rules football players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2004;7(2):248-258. [PubMed]  


Klass, D et al. MR imaging of acute anterior cruciate ligament injuries. The Knee. 2007;14(5):339-347. doi:10.1016/j.knee.2007.04.008


McCrory P. What is sports and exercise medicine? British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2006;40(12):955-957. [PubMed]


McCurdie I. Imaging in sport and exercise medicine: “a sports physician’s outlook and needs.” The British Journal of Radiology. 2012;85(1016):1198-1200. doi:10.1259/bjr/14729770


Orchard, J, Read J, Anderson I(J)F. The use of diagnostic imaging in sports medicine. The Medical Journal of Australia. 2005;183(9):482-486. Available from: