Water bath evaluation technique for emergency ultrasound of painful superficial structures

Michael Blaivas, Matthew L Lyon, Larry Brannam, Sandeep Duggal, Paul Sierzenski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Researchers have described the use of bedside emergency ultrasound as an effective way to evaluate for and accurately drain potential abscesses. Similarly, descriptions exist of long bone fracture evaluation in the wrist and hands. Tendon injury can also be detected with ultrasound and exploration can be obviated or at least focused. Sonographic examination of painful extremity pathology such as abscesses or lacerations involving the hand or foot can be challenging. Patients may be uncooperative if they experience significant pain when the transducer is placed on the area of interest. While ample amounts of ultrasound gel can decrease the need for firm transducer contact with the skin it is still difficult to obtain a good evaluation without causing any discomfort. The solution may lie in an old technique that has been recently brought back to life for use in hand evaluation in which the patient's extremity is placed in a water bath. The water bath replaces the need for ultrasound gel or contact between the ultrasound transducer and the patient's skin, thus eliminating discomfort. We describe 7 cases in which, despite aggressive attempts at pain control, adequate evaluation of extremity pathology was not possible without the use of the water bath technique. Patients reported no discomfort and superior quality images were obtained due to the water bath properties. Emergency sonologists should keep this technique in mind when contact between skin and the ultrasound transducer is likely to cause a patient significant discomfort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)589-593
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2004


  • Emergency ultrasound
  • abscess
  • soft tissue ultrasound
  • superficial ultrasound
  • tendon laceration
  • water bath

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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