What scan do I need for my painful foot?

Within the domain of foot and ankle treatments, accurate diagnosis plays a crucial role in ensuring effective patient care. Various imaging investigations are employed to shed light on the complexities of conditions affecting these crucial body parts. While specialised scans like SPECT-CT and DEXA are utilised on occasion, this article focuses on the commonly used imaging techniques that can significantly contribute to the diagnosis and treatment planning process. Understanding the specific utility of each modality is essential for both clinicians and patients seeking clarity on foot and ankle issues.

A common question amongst clinicians is which one is required when facing a specific condition that needs confirmation after seeing a patient in clinic. Here’s a brief guide to the most common scans:


X-ray imaging stands as a readily accessible and valuable tool in the initial assessment of foot and ankle conditions. It excels at ruling out fractures and assessing arthritis in major joints. Offering a quick and efficient overview, X-rays provide a foundational understanding that often guides further diagnostic steps.

MRI scan

For a more in-depth analysis, an MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) emerges as a powerful tool. This imaging modality offers a detailed capture of cartilage conditions, stress fractures, tendon issues (including tears or tendinopathy), and ligament abnormalities. Its ability to provide a comprehensive view makes it an indispensable resource in diagnosing intricate foot and ankle problems.

CT scan

When it comes to bone-related conditions, a CT scan (computed tomography) steps in as a three-dimensional enhanced imaging solution. Particularly useful for complex fractures, bone cysts, and dislocations, CT scans provide a detailed look at the skeletal structure. An innovative development in this field is the "standing CT," an ideal technique for assessing leg and foot deformities.

US scan

The dynamic nature of an ultrasound (US) scan makes it a valuable modality for examining superficial soft structures in the foot and ankle. Tendons, ligaments, and the guidance of injections are areas where ultrasound excels. Its real-time imaging capability aids in visualising movement and identifying abnormalities that might not be apparent in static images.

Choosing the Right Modality

After a thorough examination by an orthopaedic consultant, the choice of imaging modality depends on the suspected differential diagnoses. The expertise of the consultant plays a crucial role in recommending the most suitable investigation to confirm and understand the specific foot or ankle condition. This tailored approach ensures that patients receive accurate diagnoses, leading to more effective and targeted treatment plans.

Recognising the signs and symptoms of these conditions is crucial for seeking timely medical attention. Mr Francesc Malagelada is dedicated to diagnosing and treating various foot and ankle conditions, providing personalised treatment plans to address your specific needs and help you get back on your feet comfortably. Contact us and book an appointment today!

Keep in mind that our blog is also a great place if you’d like to stay updated on the latest orthopaedic news.

This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult your physician for personalised guidance. In case of a medical emergency, contact your doctor or emergency services.