Comparing Ultrasound and MRI in Brachial Plexus Imaging

The brachial plexus is a complex network of nerves that extends from the spinal cord, through the neck and armpit, and into the arm. Imaging the brachial plexus is crucial for diagnosing and managing conditions such as traumatic nerve injuries, nerve compression syndromes, and tumours. For decades, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been the gold standard for brachial plexus imaging due to its excellent soft tissue contrast and ability to visualise the entire plexus in high detail. However, ultrasound has emerged as a promising alternative in recent years, offering specific advantages over MRI. This article explores the potential of ultrasound to replace MRI for brachial plexus imaging.

Advantages of Ultrasound

  • Ultrasound machines are significantly more affordable than MRI machines in terms of initial investment and ongoing operational costs. As a result, using ultrasound for brachial plexus imaging could reduce the financial burden on patients and healthcare providers.
  • Ultrasound is more widely available than MRI, particularly in remote or under-resourced areas. This increased accessibility could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of brachial plexus-related conditions, ultimately improving patient outcomes.
  • MRI examinations often require patients to remain confined for extended periods, which can be uncomfortable or even impossible for some patients (e.g., those with claustrophobia or severe pain). On the other hand, ultrasound is performed at the bedside and does not involve any confinement, making it a more patient-friendly option.
  • Ultrasound allows real-time visualisation of the brachial plexus, whereas MRI does not. This can be particularly helpful for guiding interventional procedures, such as nerve blocks or biopsies, as it enables the clinician to adjust their approach as needed.
  • Ultrasound does not involve ionising radiation, which is a concern with other imaging modalities like computed tomography (CT). This makes it a safer option for patients, particularly pregnant women and children, who are more susceptible to the harmful effects of radiation.

Challenges for Ultrasound

Although these advantages, there are also several challenges associated with using ultrasound for brachial plexus imaging:

  • The quality of ultrasound images is highly dependent on the skill of the operator. This is in contrast to MRI, which provides more consistent and reproducible results across different operators. Therefore, ensuring that ultrasound operators are well-trained and experienced in brachial plexus imaging is essential for obtaining accurate diagnostic information.
  • Ultrasound has a smaller field of view than MRI, making it more challenging to visualise the entire brachial plexus. This limitation may be particularly problematic in cases where the full extent of nerve involvement is unclear.
  • Although modern ultrasound machines have improved image resolution, MRI provides superior soft tissue contrast and overall image quality. MRI may be better suited for detecting subtle abnormalities within the brachial plexus, such as small nerve injuries or early-stage tumours.
  • Ultrasound is prone to certain artefacts, such as shadowing from bones or gas-filled structures, which can obscure the brachial plexus and limit the diagnostic accuracy of the examination.


Ultrasound has several advantages over MRI for brachial plexus imaging, including cost-effectiveness, accessibility, patient comfort, real-time imaging capabilities, and the absence of ionising radiation. However, it also faces challenges regarding operator dependence, limited field of view, image resolution, and imaging artefacts. These challenges may limit the diagnostic accuracy of ultrasound in certain cases and make it less suitable for detecting subtle abnormalities within the brachial plexus.

Despite these limitations, ultrasound has shown great potential as an alternative to MRI for brachial plexus imaging, particularly when MRI is unavailable, contraindicated, or not feasible for the patient. However, operators must be well-trained and experienced in brachial plexus imaging to optimise the diagnostic accuracy of ultrasound. Additionally, advances in ultrasound technology, such as the development of high-frequency transducers and enhanced image processing algorithms, may further improve image quality and resolution, helping to overcome current limitations..

You are here: home » brachial plexus imaging
We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. View more
Cookies settings
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active
This privacy and cookies policy sets out how Open Medscience uses and protects any information that you give Open Medscience when you use this website ( Open Medscience is committed to ensuring that your privacy is protected. Should we ask you to provide certain information by which you can be identified when using this website, you can be assured that it will only be used according to this privacy statement. Open Medscience may change this policy from time to time by updating this page. You should check this page from time to time to ensure that you are happy with any changes. This policy is effective from 19 July 2022.

How we use cookies

A cookie is a small file that asks permission to be placed on your computer's hard drive. Once you agree, the file is added and the cookie helps analyse web traffic or lets you know when you visit a particular site. Cookies allow web applications to respond to you as an individual. The web application can tailor its operations to your needs, likes and dislikes by gathering and remembering information about your preferences. We use traffic log cookies to identify which pages are being used. This helps us analyse data about web page traffic and improve our website in order to tailor it to customer needs. We only use this information for statistical analysis purposes and then the data is removed from the system. Overall, cookies help us provide you with a better website, by enabling us to monitor which pages you find useful and which you do not. A cookie in no way gives us access to your computer or any information about you, other than the data you choose to share with us. You can choose to accept or decline cookies. Most web browsers automatically accept cookies, but you can usually modify your browser setting to decline cookies if you prefer. This may prevent you from taking full advantage of the website. Our website ( may contain links to other websites of interest. However, once you have used these links to leave our site, you should note that we do not have any control over that other website. Therefore, we cannot be responsible for the protection and privacy of any information which you provide whilst visiting such sites and such sites are not governed by this privacy statement. You should exercise caution and look at the privacy statement applicable to the website in question. You are here: home » brachial plexus imaging
Save settings
Cookies settings
Scroll to Top