The Skeleton In Me – Bone Scan 101

A few weeks ago I seen yet another specialist for my ankle. The amount of pain and discomfort from my ankle is beginning to be too much to bare. I HATE taking pain medications, but I can say that even the pain medications are not reliving any of the pain or inflammation. I decided to make an appointment with a very well sought out physician in this field. Thankfully he is close enough to me that I can make the trip. It’s 4 hours round trip, but worth it. I finally have a plan. I don’t have the answers yet, but we have a plan. There are several plans really, just depending on what my tests reveal. The first scan that was planned was a Bone Scan. This test would reveal many of the unknown answers we need to move forward with one plan or the other.

What is a Bone Scan?

Simply put a bone scan is a nuclear imaging test that helps diagnose and track several types of bone disease. It can also be done to find damage to the bones, find cancer that has spread to the bones, and watch problems such as infection and trauma to the bones. The test and the process are lengthy and unpleasant. I can however let that all go to have the answers that I need. Medical is never fun, but we do it, because we have to. A bone scan is much more invasive and can see things that may not be seen on an x-ray or other tests. Often times a bone scan can show otherwise unexplained pain in the back, pelvic area, legs and other places.

What to Expect During a Bone Scan?

Bone Scan Nuclear Medicine Machine

Bone Scan Nuclear Medicine Machine

As I said, the test is pretty simple other then the length of time. When you first arrive for your bone scan you are taken back to the room. There you remain in your clothing (at least during my scans I did, changing wasn’t required). An IV line was started and it was a rather large IV due to the process and what they needed to do. First they removed a LARGE syringe of blood that was immediately sent down to the lab. Then they injected a first time dye or tracer. I couldn’t help but chuckle that I was nuclear active and it was Halloween. I really truly was radioactive! You are placed in the scanner. It’s a bed. It’s very narrow, which was VERY uncomfortable for me. It was also very hard. I was given a pillow for my head, but there was little to no padding on the bed. That scan took about 15-20 minutes. They took full body scans as well as some of just my ankle. I was then sent home for about 2 hours. I was told to drink extra and try to flush my system of the tracers. Whatever tracers that didn’t leave my body would be seen. A special camera takes pictures of the tracer in your bones. The areas that absorb little or no amount of tracer appear as dark or cold spots. The areas of fast bone growth or repair absorb more tracer and show up as bright or hot spots in the pictures. Hot spots may point to problems such as arthritis, a tumor, a fracture, or an infection. The hot spots showed up in my ankle, which we had suspected would be the case.

Bone Scan Showing A Hot Spot from Cancer (photo courtesy of Web MD)

Bone Scan Showing A Hot Spot from Cancer (photo courtesy of Web MD) This is NOT my scan but gives you an idea of what you see on the monitor.

After 2 hours I returned for the second part of my scan. This part was pretty quick. They did a complete body scan with some extra photos of my ankles. That took about 15-20 minutes. They then took a syringe that had my blood which was tagged with the tracers and injected that back in through the IV. At this time they removed my IV and the first day of the testing was complete. I had to go home and return the next morning. During this first scan your bones and the tracers show up on a monitor and you can see them, which is pretty neat to watch. The second part is the most vital and I was not able to view that on the monitor like the first part.

The next morning I headed back to the hospital and I headed up to get part 2 (the final part) of the test done. I walked in, enter the room with the same machine. The scan took about 20-25 minutes. When it was done the nurse brought it to the doctor who said they got everything they needed. The results would be back this next week. I probably will not have the results for several more weeks, but from the feedback I was able to get from the technicians, it was exactly what the doctor had thought. There was a deep bone infection.

I am not sure what will happen from here. I know that we (the doctor and I) have plans in place, but I won’t know which was is the best way to approach things until after I see him for my next appointment in late November.

Bone Scans are useful for LOTS of things. Without the technology of the bone scan machine I am not sure there would be an easy way to tell if there was an infection other then going in for surgery and them not able to complete the surgery because of infection. That would be difficult because it would take time to heal and everything else all for just a diagnosis that the bone scan can do without all the hassle.


One Response to “The Skeleton In Me – Bone Scan 101”

  1. November 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm


    When I was pregnant with the boys they suspected that I had a blood clot and did a scan on me that was very similar to this. Though they couldn’t say “yes, there you have a blood clot” it came back as low, medium, or high probability for a clot. Anyway, the scan was much like this and I was radioactive!

    I wonder if it’s the same machine that they use, really? I obviously didn’t have a second day of testing but they were sure quick to admit me. LOL

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