Call Today 919-719-3070

3001 Edwards Mill Road,
Suite 100, Raleigh, NC 27612

Orthopedic Surgery Terms Explained [Easy Guide for Patients] Part 1 – Diagnostics

So, you’ve had symptoms for some time and you’ve decided to consult an orthopaedic surgeon. They’ve done some tests, assessed your condition, and probably gave you a diagnosis. 

Many of us are so overwhelmed by the process, that we don’t even think to ask the important questions, or to understand everything that the doctor says. A good orthopaedic surgeon will explain the tests, the diagnosis and necessary procedure in layman’s terms, but some don’t.

outpatient surgery center in the triangle

Here are some terms you might find useful when talking to an orthopaedic surgeon about your  diagnostic procedures:

It is a minimally-invasive diagnostic and treatment procedure used for conditions of a joint. This procedure involves a small, lighted optic tube (arthroscope) being inserted into the joint through a small incision. Images of the inside of the joint are projected onto a screen. These are used to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joint, detect bone diseases and tumors, and to determine the cause of bone pain and inflammation.


Arthrography is often used to help diagnose the cause of unexplained joint pain. A contrast iodine solution is injected into the joint area to help highlight the joint structures, such as ligaments, cartilage, tendons and joint capsules. Several X-rays of the joint are taken, using a fluoroscope, a special piece of X-ray equipment that immediately shows the image. You may be asked to fast prior to the exam. During the examination, you may be asked to move the joint into various positions as the images are taken. It is normal to experience some discomfort, or tingling during the procedure. If you are, or may be pregnant, or are allergic to iodine or shellfish, notify your physician – you may be at a higher risk of complications.

CAT Scan 
Also known as a CT scan, it is a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.


Discography is a test used to determine whether the discs – the cushioning pads that separate the bones of the spine – are the source of back pain. It may be performed before surgery to positively identify the painful disc(s).

Doppler Ultrasound

An orthopaedist who suspects that you have a blockage in the blood vessels of your legs, or arms may prescribe an ultrasound test. An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves that echo off the body. This creates a picture of the blood vessels. The Doppler audio system transmits the “swishing” sound of the blood flow. This is a noninvasive test that has no side effects.

Electromyogram/ Electromyography (EMG)
It is a test used to evaluate nerve and muscle function.

Flexibility Tests

Flexibility tests are used to measure the range of motion in a joint and are often part of the physical examination. They may be used to help determine whether you have a muscle imbalance, or arthritis of a joint. They may also be used to help determine the progression of a condition, such as a shoulder impingement, or a sprain.

Joint Aspiration and Analysis

Joint aspiration may be both a diagnostic test and a treatment option. Aspiration, or removing the fluid through a syringe, can reduce swelling and relieve pressure. The doctor will swab the skin with an antibacterial solution before inserting the aspirating needle. 

After the test, your doctor may send the fluid to a laboratory for analysis.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) 
It is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. 

This procedure involves the injection of a dye, or contrast material into the spinal canal. It is the specific x-ray study that also allows a careful evaluation of the spinal canal and nerve roots.

Nerve Conduction Study (NCS)

Nerve conduction studies are often done along with an electromyogram to determine if a nerve is functioning normally. It may be recommended if you have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, or ulnar nerve entrapment.


Palpation means touching. During the physical examination, your doctor may feel your joints to see if they are warm or swollen – signs of inflammation. He, or she may apply pressure to a muscle, or joint to identify an area of tenderness. Palpation can also be used to identify the location of masses, such as tumors, or cysts.

Range of Motion Testing

Range of motion tests may also be called flexibility tests. They are used to measure how well you can move a joint.

In active tests, you do all the movement. In passive tests, the doctor will hold the extremity and move it.

A diagnostic technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs.

It’s a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

Stay tuned for our “Orthopedic Surgery Terms Explained” Part 2, where we will explain orthopedic terms for important parts of your body – to help you better understand your diagnosis and treatment.

outpatient surgery center in the triangle

Outpatient Surgery Center in NC – Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center

Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center is the FIRST AND ONLY outpatient surgery center in the Triangle to specialize exclusively in orthopedic surgery. Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic surgeons perform more than 4,000 outpatient orthopedic procedures on an annual basis.

Our experienced team of highly skilled orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other professional staff work together to achieve the best possible outcome for you. The Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center has board-certified surgeons and physicians with advanced training in their respective sub-specialties.

The Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center, NC, is committed to providing you with world-class services during your treatment. Your care will at all times be physician-directed and patient-focused.

Find out more about our outpatient surgery center in the Triangle, by watching this video tour.

Call us to make an appointment or to find out more today!

Read What Our Patients’ reviews About the Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.