Getting a Bone Scan?

aka Nuclear Medicine Imaging

What is a bone scan?

With nuclear medicine imaging, bones can be scanned to show their condition. This is typically done to see if there have been any effected changes in bones due to injury, disease or some kind of infection.

Nuclear medicine imaging involves small amounts of radiopharmaceuticals, historically called radioisotopes, being injected into a vein. These substances then stick to the bones, emit radiation and can be viewed with special cameras that have fantastic names: single-photon emission computed tomography cameras, SPECT cameras, for example.

This process, in my case, was carried out to eliminate the possibility of very small fractures. This highly sensitive imaging process displays the areas of high radiopharmaceutical uptake as brighter than other areas, brightness possibly indicating areas of concern.

The areas of high radiopharmaceutical uptake appear brighter.
High radiopharmaceutical uptake in the bones appears as being brighter.

Why are you having a bone scan?

Why wouldn’t you just have an X-radiation image (X-ray), computed tomography scan (CT scan) or a magnetic resonance image scan (MRI scan)? These procedures look at bone structure, but a bone scan examines the bone’s condition and how it is functioning, essentially facilitating early diagnosis of bone stress—before a fracture or unwanted change in the bone takes place.

How do you prepare for a bone scan?

Between receiving the injection and having the scan, I was asked to drink several cups of water and make sure to urinate before having the scan. This is apparently to avoid any buildup of the radioactive radiopharmaceutical in the bladder.

What happens during the scan?

First you will get the radiopharmaceutical injected into your vein. You must then wait for two to six hours.

Several hours later, after your bones have had time to absorb the radioactive material, the scan can commence.

The scan may take a long time and you have to lie completely still. I had two scans that went for nearly half an hour in total. And the scanning may take longer than that depending on what you’re having scanned.

What will happen afterwards?

Typically, there aren’t any noticeable effects from the bone scan. You will still have radioactive material in your system for up to 24 hours after the scan. I was told that I may inadvertently set off metal detectors due to this radiation.


My Results: I was said to have, … tomography demonstrating slight increased activity at a number of tarsometatarsal joints bilaterally as well as the [metatarsophalangeal] joint of both great toes.” Well, I have great toes do I ;-) Also, “Low grade increased activity within the right talonavicular joint,” and, “Scattered areas of mild arthropathy.”

If you know what these terms mean, please comment below and tell me your diagnosis.

One comment

  1. Dr A. AZAB

    Hi Wael, nuclear medicine, and in general all type of medical investigation, are getting so advanced to the extent doctors are able to make a diagnosis without the need of examination.
    In your case, high up take of the Radioactive material means high cellular activity which is mostly an inflammatory reaction, for a variety of reasons.
    Your local radiographer can give you more explanation, or email Dr Donald Wai, who as you know is a specialist in this field.
    Best wishes
    Dr A AZAB