(Radionuclide Bone Scan; Bone Scintigraphy)
A bone scan is a test that detects areas of increased or decreased bone activity. These may indicate bone injury or disease. Radioactive isotopes and tracer chemicals are used to highlight problem areas.
Reasons for test
The test is done to detect an abnormal process involving your bone, including the following:
- Stress injuries (such as, stress fracture, shin splints)
- Infection (osteomyelitis)
- Bone tumors
- Cancer spreading to the bones
- Metabolic disorders (such as, Pagets Disease)
- Nutritional disorders that can affect bones, like low vitamin D levels (for example, rickets)
- Death of an area of bone tissues due to blocked circulation (avascular necrosis)
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely risk free. If you are planning to have a bone scan, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
- Allergic reaction to the injected material
Some people worry about the use of radioactive material in a bone scan. The amount of radioactivity is very small, though larger than you would receive from common x-ray procedures, like a chest x-ray or dental x-ray. The radioactive material is eliminated from the body within 2-3 days.
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. You may need to discard breast milk for several days after a bone scan.
Tell your doctor if you have recently had anything that contains barium (for example, contrast dye) or bismuth (found in some medicines).
Three hours before the scan, you will receive an injection of 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.
Description of the Test
You will lie on your back on an imaging table. A camera above and below the table will slowly scan you. You may be asked to move into various positions as the scan is done. It is important to lie still when not told to move. The camera will be able to detect small amounts of radioactivity in the injected material. This will allow the doctor to see areas where there may be bone injury or disease.
How Long Will It Take?
You will be in the scanner for 20-60 minutes. Sometimes another scan is done after 24 hours.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have questions about the test, your condition, or your test results.
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Bone scan. Harvard Family Health Guide website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/family-health-guide. Accessed June 9, 2008.
Holmes EB. Ionizing radiation exposure with medical imaging. Medscape Drugs Disease & Procedures website. Available at: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1464228-overview. Accessed September 23, 2011.
Snderlin BR, Raspa R. Common stress fractures. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/1015/p1527.html. Accessed June 9, 2008.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, 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.