From times immemorial manual palpation served as a source of information on the state of soft tissues and allowed detection of various diseases accompanied by changes in tissue elasticity. During the last two decades, the ancient art of palpation gained new life due to numerous emerging elasticity imaging (EI) methods. Areas of applications of EI in medical diagnostics and treatment monitoring are steadily expanding. Elasticity imaging methods are emerging as commercial applications, a true testament to the progress and importance of the field. In this paper we present a brief history and theoretical basis of EI, describe various techniques of EI, analyze their advantages and limitations, and overview main clinical applications. We present a classification of elasticity measurement and imaging techniques based on the methods used for generating a stress in the tissue (external mechanical force, internal ultrasound radiation force, or an internal endogenous force), and measurement of the tissue response. The measurement method can be performed using differing physical principles including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound imaging, X-ray imaging, optical and acoustic signals.
Until recently, EI was largely a research method used by a few select institutions having the special equipment needed to perform the studies. Since 2005 however, increasing numbers of mainstream manufacturers have added EI to their ultrasound systems so that today the majority of manufacturers offer some sort of Elastography or tissue stiffness imaging on their clinical systems. Now it is safe to say that some sort of elasticity imaging may be performed on virtually all types of focal and diffuse disease. Most of the new applications are still in the early stages of research, but a few are becoming common applications in clinical practice.