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MRI Is MVP For Top University Sports Programs

April 25, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Musculoskeletal Radiology
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For Duke University, and for other major colleges and universities across the country, one of the most important pieces of athletic equipment is the MRI machine.

“MR is the preferred way to look at most sports injuries because you can see so much more than plain films or CT, all the soft tissue and anomalies,” said Clyde A. Helms, MD, chief of musculoskeletal radiology at Duke Medicine (which incorporates the Duke University Health System and the Duke University School of Medicine) in Durham, North Carolina.

“It’s the more expensive modality, but it gives you a much more complete and comprehensive view of what you’re looking at.”

Dr. Helms, interviewed by HealthImaging.com, said the Duke football and basketball teams (the latter a perennial national-championship contender) need the most imaging services:

During football season, we’ll reserve three or four spots on the MR unit on Monday, or even come in on Sunday after the Saturday game. This is common at most universities.

Athletes at Duke and some other universities also undergo baseline MRI screening before each season. Among other things, such screening sometimes keeps injured athletes from having to undergo surgery. If a radiologist knows, for example, that pain results from an aggravation of an earlier injury or condition, then physical therapy or behavior modification might take care of the problem. Said Dr. Helms:

It’s amazing how much pathology you can see in athletes that they’re not even complaining about, such as tendinitis, contusions, jumper’s knee, all commonly found in a patient with a potential medial meniscus tear.

Surprisingly, professional teams have not rushed to embrace baseline screening. “It’s been really effective for us,” Dr. Helms said. “I’m a little surprised when you’re paying multimillion-dollar athletes that management wouldn’t want them to get screened. If I were paying an elite basketball player $20 million, I’d want to know everything about him.”

Not so many years ago, Dr. Helms said, orthopedists X-rayed injured athletes and read the films themselves. The skill and training required to read more advanced images have greatly increased the role of radiologists in partnership with surgeons.

High-school athletes, with their still-developing bodies and generally lesser access to top-flight coaching and medical care, probably need advanced imaging services even more than college or professional athletes. Paying for those services is, of course, the issue.

Still, as Dr. Helms’ experience makes clear, many untapped opportunities remain for radiologists in the field of sports medicine.

Related seminar: Sports Medicine Imaging

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