Frequently asked questions

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What is the difference between x-rays, MRI, and CT scan?

X-rays are a type of radiation, and when they pass through the body, dense objects such as bone block the radiation and appear white on the x-ray film, while less dense tissues appear gray and are difficult to see. X-rays are typically used to diagnose and assess bone degeneration or disease, fractures and dislocations, infections, or tumours.

Organs and tissues within the body contain magnetic properties. MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, combines a powerful magnet with (radio waves instead of x-rays) and a computer to manipulate these magnetic elements and create highly detailed images of structures in the body. Images are viewed as cross sections or "slices" of the body part being scanned. There is no radiation involved as with x-rays. MRI scans are frequently used to diagnose bone and joint problems.

A computed tomography (CT) scan (also known as CAT scan) is similar to an MRI in the detail and quality of image it produces, yet the CT scan is actually a sophisticated, powerful x-ray that takes 360-degree pictures of internal organs, the spine, and vertebrae. By combining x-rays and a computer, a CT scan, like an MRI, produces cross-sectional views of the body part being scanned. In many cases, a contrast dye is injected into the blood to make the structures more visible. CT scans show the bones of the spine much better than MRI, so they are more useful in diagnosing conditions affecting the vertebrae (bones of the spine).

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is the treatment of musculoskeletal and neurological injuries to promote a return to function and independent living. Physical therapy incorporates both exercise and functional training. Exercise restores motion and strength while functional training facilitates a return to daily activities, work, or sport.

What is an epidural?

An epidural is a potent steroid injection that helps decrease the inflammation of compressed spinal nerves to relieve pain in the back, neck, arms or legs. Cortisone is injected directly into the spinal canal for pain relief from conditions such as herniated disks, spinal stenosis, or radiculopathy. Some patients may need only one injection, but it sometimes takes two or three injections, given two to four weeks apart, to provide significant pain relief.

What is a tendon? Ligament? Cartilage?

A tendon is a band of tissue that connects muscle to bone. A ligament is an elastic band of tissue that connects bone to bone and provides stability to the joint. Cartilage is a soft, gel-like padding between bones that protects joints and facilitates movement.

What is a cortisone/corticosteroid injection?

Cortisone is a steroid that is produced naturally in the body. Synthetically-produced cortisone can also be injected into soft tissues and joints to help decrease inflammation. While cortisone is not a pain reliever, pain may diminish as a result of reduced inflammation. In orthopaedics, cortisone injections are commonly used as a treatment for chronic conditions such as bursitis, tendinitis, and arthritis.

What are NSAIDs and how do they work?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are non-prescription, over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. They are popular treatments for muscular aches and pains, as well as arthritis.

NSAIDs not only relieve pain, but also help to decrease inflammation, prevent blood clots, and reduce fevers. They work by blocking the actions of the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme. There are two forms of the COX enzyme. COX-2 is produced when joints are injured or inflamed, which NSAIDS counteract. COX-1 protects the stomach lining from acids and digestive juices and helps the kidneys function properly. This is why side effects of NSAIDs may include nausea, upset stomach, ulcers, or improper kidney function.

Should I apply ice or heat to an injury?

Ice should be used in the acute stage of an injury (within the first 24-48 hours), or whenever there is swelling. Ice helps to reduce inflammation by decreasing blood flow to the area in which cold is applied. Heat increases blood flow and may promote pain relief after swelling subsides. Heat may also be used to warm up muscles prior to exercise or physical therapy.

What is joint replacement surgery?

Joint replacement surgery is performed to replace an arthritic or damaged joint with a new, artificial joint called a prosthesis. The knee and hip are the most commonly replaced joints, although shoulders, elbows and ankles can also be replaced.

Joints contain cartilage, a rubbery material that cushions the ends of bones and facilitates movement. Over time, or if the joint has been injured, the cartilage wears away and the bones of the joint start rubbing together. As bones rub together, bone spurs may form and the joint becomes stiff and painful. Most people have joint replacement surgery when they can no longer control the pain in their hip or knee with medication and other treatments, and the pain is significantly interfering with their lives.

What is arthoscopic surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery is one of the most common orthopaedic procedures performed today. Through the use of small instruments and cameras, an orthopaedic surgeon can visualize, diagnose, and treat problems within the joints.

One or more small incisions are made around the joint to be viewed. The surgeon inserts an instrument called an arthoscope into the joint. The arthoscope contains a fibre optic light source and small television camera that allows the surgeon to view the joint on a television monitor and diagnose the problem, determine the extent of injury, and make any necessary repairs. Other instruments may be inserted to help view or repair the tissues inside the joint.

What is an orthopaedic surgeon?

An orthopaedic surgeon is a medical doctor who has received up to 14 years of education in the diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention of injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system (bones and joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage).

Some orthopaedic surgeons practice general orthopaedics, while others specialize in treating certain body parts such as the foot and ankle, hand and wrist, spine, knee, shoulder, or hip. Some orthopaedists may also focus on a specific population such as paediatrics, trauma, or sports medicine.

What is an ACL reconstruction?

ACL reconstruction is a surgical procedure that repairs a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of the main four ligaments that help stabilize the knee. The ligament is reconstructed using a tendon that is passed through the inside of the knee joint and secured to the upper leg bone (femur) and one of the two lower leg bones (tibia).

The tendon used for reconstruction is called a graft and can come from different sources. It is usually taken from the patient's own patella, hamstring, or quadriceps, or it can come from a cadaver.

What are the most common complications of orthopaedic surgery?

Most patients will not encounter problems after orthopaedic surgery. As with any surgery, however, there are potential risks, including: reaction to anaesthesia, bleeding, infection, blood clots, nerve damage, lack of full range of motion, development of arthritis, scar formation, or re-injury of the joint or soft tissue.

How long do artificial joints last?

In general, 10% of total hip and total knee replacements will have failed and required revision by sixteen years after implantation. The causes of failure include loosening and infection. Approximately 20% will have failed at twenty years.


What is tennis elbow?

Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is inflammation of the tendon that connects the muscles of the forearm, wrist, and hand to the upper arm at the elbow. The tendon on the bony outside (lateral) part of the elbow (the epicondyle) is most often irritated by overuse during physical activity.

What is the difference between a sprain and a strain?

A strain occurs when a muscle is stretched or torn. A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched or torn.

Strains are often the result of overuse or improper use of a muscle, while sprains typically occur when a joint is subjected to excessive force or unnatural movements (e.g., sudden twists, turns, or stops).

What is tendinitis?

Tendinitis is inflammation of a tendon, a band of tissue that connects muscle to bone. It is most commonly the result of overuse during physical activities. Repetitive motions can stretch and irritate the tendon, causing pain and swelling. Tendinitis occurs around joints such as the elbow, shoulder, wrist, ankle, or knee.

What is spinal stenosis?

Stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal, usually in the lower back (lumbar) region. This narrowing is often a result of the normal degenerative aging process. It occurs as the disks of cartilage that separate the spine's vertebrae lose water and the space between the vertebrae become smaller, causing friction between the bones. The loss of water in the disks makes them less flexible and unable to act as shock absorbers in the spine. Daily wear and tear on the spine becomes more significant without these shock absorbers.

As the disks degenerate, vertebrae may shift, causing the spinal canal to narrow. In some cases, the nerves that travel through the spinal column to the legs become squeezed. This can cause back and leg pain, and even leg weakness. Arthritis and falls also contribute to the narrowing of the spinal canal, compressing the nerves and nerve roots and causing pain and discomfort.

What is shoulder impingement?

Impingement syndrome is a common disorder of the shoulder that refers to an improper alignment of the bones and tissues in the upper arm. Inflammatory conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis, and arthritis are all closely related to impingement syndrome, as are tears to the rotator cuff tendons.

If the rotator cuff becomes inflamed from overuse or there is a bone deformity or spur on the end of the shoulder blade, then the space between the upper arm bone and tip of the shoulder blade is narrowed, causing the rotator cuff and its fluid-filled bursa to be squeezed or pinched. This 'impingement' causes irritation and pain to the rotator cuff when the shoulder is raised.