(Radionuclide Bone Scan; Bone Scintigraphy)En Español (Spanish Version)
A bone scan is a test that detects areas of increased or decreased bone turnover. These may indicate bone injury or disease. Radioactive isotopes and tracer chemicals are used to highlight the problem areas.
Reasons for Procedure
The procedure is performed to detect an abnormal process involving your bone, including the following:
- Stress injuries such as stress fracture and shin splints
- Infection (osteomyelitis)
- Bone tumors
- Cancer that has spread to the bone
- Metabolic disorders such as Paget’s Disease
- Nutritional disorders that can affect bone, such as osteomalacia or rickets
- Death of an area of bone tissues, due to blocked circulation (avascular necrosis)
© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.
Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure
There are no known risks factors for this procedure.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Tell your doctor if you are pregnant.
Three hours before the scan, you will receive an injection of a radioactive tracer chemicals. You should drink plenty of fluids between the time of the injection and the scan. You will also be asked to empty your bladder before the scan.
First, remove jewelry and other metal objects, and change into a hospital gown. You will lie on your back on an imaging table. A camera above and below the table will slowly scan from your head to your foot. You may be asked to move into various positions as the scan is performed, but you will lie still for most of the test.
No anesthesia is required.
Description of the Procedure
Several pictures are taken of your body, using a special scanning camera. The camera detects small amounts of radioactivity in the injected technetium. This allows the doctor to see areas where there may be bone injury or disease.
After the bone scan, the injection site is checked for redness and swelling.
How Long Will It Take?
The scan is usually done 3 hours after the injection. The actual scan takes between 20 to 60 minutes.
Will It Hurt?
This test is painless except for the mild discomfort of the injection.
Some people worry about the use of slightly radioactive material. However, the amount of radioactivity is very small. It is eliminated from the body within 2 to 3 days. Complications from a bone scan are rare.
In extremely rare cases, a person may develop a mild or severe allergic reaction to the injected material. There may also be a slight risk of infection from the injection. The risk is no greater in this procedure than for any intravenous injection.
Average Hospital Stay
You will not need to stay in the hospital. A bone scan is an outpatient procedure.
No special care is required after the procedure.
If your bone tissue is healthy, your bone scan will show a uniform pattern of the injected material. If there is an area of disease, darker or lighter areas (hot or cold spots) will be evident on the bone scan. These show areas with abnormally active bone breakdown or repair.
The radiologists who read the bone scans are called a nuclear medicine doctors. They are experienced at knowing the difference between changes that look like arthritis or other benign conditions, and those due to cancer. If the radiologist is not sure, he or she will recommend further tests including standard x-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans.
Sometimes bone pain is due to a process occurring next to the bones, but not directly in them. In this case, the bone scan will generally not be that effective and other types of testing (CT or MRI scans) would be better. This is a decision that your doctor will make to help determine the reason for your pain or change in symptoms.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, NIH
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Bone scan. The Harvard Family Health Guide Online. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/. Accessed June 9, 2008.
Snderlin BR, Raspa, R. Common Stress Fractures. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/100196/abs_10.html. Accessed June 9, 2008.
Last reviewed November 2007 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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