If a bone is broken, doctors can use imaging technologies to see the damage and guide treatment. These include X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tools help doctors get a clear view of the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, cartilage, and other tissues inside the body.
X-rays are the most common way to diagnose a fracture. An X-ray machine sends a small burst of radiation through the body and records an image on photographic film or a detector. Dense parts of the body, like bones, absorb more radiation and show up white on an X-ray. Softer parts, like muscles, show up in shades of gray. Air shows up as black.
A doctor can also feel the injured part to determine if there are any obvious signs of a break, such as a visible crack or swelling. They may also ask whether the person can use, put weight on, or move the injured part. If moving a hurt body part is too painful, it may be a sign of a fracture.
CT scans are the next-generation diagnostic imaging technology that can provide even more detail than X-rays. During a CT scan, the patient lies on an examination table while a large machine rotates around the body and sends a series of X-ray beams through the area of interest. A computer program then reconstructs the X-rays into cross-sectional images. A board certified musculoskeletal radiologist interprets these images and generates a report for your doctor.