Child Orthopedics

Frequently Asked Questions

My son is going in for an X-ray to see if he has one leg longer than the other. The doctor isn't sure if the leg difference is in the bone or the soft tissues. Would there be any advantage to ask for a CT scan or an MRI?

All three of those imaging methods are equally accurate for measuring limb length. X-rays do expose the person to some radiation. For a single X-ray that isn't much but if he will need repeated X-rays over time then an MRI might be better (no radiation).

MRIs also give detailed information about the bones and soft tissues. That might be helpful in your son's case. MRIs are more expensive than X-rays. You might want to check your insurance coverage as part of your decision-making process.

CT scans have decreased radiation exposure compared to X-rays. Their only other real advantage is in assessing leg length difference when the knee can't straighten out all the way. If that's not a problem, then X-ray or MRI may be your best bet.

Anne H. Leitzes, MD, et al. Reliability and Accuracy of MRI Scanogram in the Evaluation of Limb Length Discrepancy. In Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics. November/December 2005. Vol. 25. No. 6. Pp. 747-749.

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