Radionuclide bone imaging: an illustrative review

Radiographics. 2003 Mar-Apr;23(2):341-58. doi: 10.1148/rg.232025103.


Bone scintigraphy with technetium-99m-labeled diphosphonates is one of the most frequently performed of all radionuclide procedures. Radionuclide bone imaging is not specific, but its excellent sensitivity makes it useful in screening for many pathologic conditions. Moreover, some conditions that are not clearly depicted on anatomic images can be diagnosed with bone scintigraphy. Bone metastases usually appear as multiple foci of increased activity, although they occasionally manifest as areas of decreased uptake. Traumatic processes can often be detected, even when radiographic findings are negative. Most fractures are scintigraphically detectable within 24 hours, although in elderly patients with osteopenia, further imaging at a later time is sometimes indicated. Athletic individuals are prone to musculoskeletal trauma, and radionuclide bone imaging is useful for identifying pathologic conditions such as plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, "shin splints," and spondylolysis, for which radiographs may be nondiagnostic. A combination of focal hyperperfusion, focal hyperemia, and focally increased bone uptake is virtually diagnostic for osteomyelitis in patients with nonviolated bone. Bone scintigraphy is also useful for evaluating disease extent in Paget disease and for localizing avascular necrosis in patients with negative radiographs. Radionuclide bone imaging will likely remain a popular and important imaging modality for years to come.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Bone Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary
  • Bone and Bones / diagnostic imaging*
  • Diphosphonates
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Technetium Compounds


  • Diphosphonates
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Technetium Compounds