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Logo of annrheumdAnnals of the Rheumatic DiseasesVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
Ann Rheum Dis. 2004 August; 63(8): 988–994.
PMCID: PMC1755091

Standard reference values for musculoskeletal ultrasonography


Objectives: To determine standard reference values for musculoskeletal ultrasonography in healthy adults.

Methods: Ultrasonography was performed on 204 shoulders, elbows, hands, hips, knees, and feet of 102 healthy volunteers (mean age 38.4 years; range 20–60; 54 women) with a linear probe (10–5 MHz; Esaote Technos MP). Diameters of tendons, bursae, cartilage, erosions, hypoechoic rims around tendons and at joints were measured with regard to established standard scans. Mean, minimum, and maximum values, as well as two standard deviations (2 SD) were determined. Mean values ±2 SD were defined as standard reference values.

Results: Hypoechoic rims were normally present in joints and tendon sheaths owing to physiological synovial fluid and/or cartilage. Similarly, fluid was found in the subdeltoid bursa in 173/204 (85%), at the long biceps tendon in 56 (27%), in the suprapatellar recess in 158 (77%), in the popliteal bursae in 32 (16%), and in the retrocalcaneal bursa in 49 (24%). Erosions of >1 mm were seen at the humeral head in 47 (23%). Values for important intervals were determined. The correlation between two investigators was 0.96 (0.78–0.99). The reliability of follow up investigations was 0.83 (0.52–0.99).

Conclusions: Fluid in bursae as well as hypoechoic rims within joints and around tendons are common findings in healthy people. This study defines standard reference values for musculoskeletal ultrasonography to prevent misinterpretation of normal fluid as an anatomical abnormality.

Figure 1
 Ultrasound image with measurement of the flexor tendons of the right index finger 1 cm proximal to the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint (transverse volar scan). The hypoechoic rim of all tendons was measured at the point of the largest diameter ...
Figure 2
 Ultrasound image with measurement of the anterior bone-capsule distance of the tibiotalar joint (anterior longitudinal scan).

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