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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.
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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 (eg, 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.
The injection site will be checked for redness and swelling.
How Long Will It Take?
You will be in the scanner for 20-60 minutes. Sometimes another scan is done after 24 hours.
Will It Hurt?
No, the test is painless, except for the mild discomfort of the injection.
If your bone tissue is healthy, your scan will show that the chemical has spread evenly to all of your bones. If there is an area of disease, darker or lighter areas (hot or cold spots) will be evident on the scan. These will show the areas with abnormally active bone breakdown or repair.
Depending on your results, you may need further tests, such as:
- X-ray —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones
- CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
- MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
- Bone density test
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Bone scan. Harvard Family Health Guide website. Available at:
. Accessed June 9, 2008.
Snderlin BR, Raspa R. Common stress fractures. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
. Accessed June 9, 2008.