Diagnostic Imaging for Back Pain

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Diagnostic Imaging

You may need to have imaging tests done to help your doctor diagnose the cause of your lower back pain.

You may have an x-ray, which can show the narrowed disc space, fractures, bone spurs (osteophytes), or osteoarthritis. A computerized axial tomography scan (a CT or CAT scan) or a magnetic resonance imaging test (an MRI) can show a bulging disc or a herniated disc. MRI is the gold standard for detecting impinged or pressure against a nerve root that eventually joins other nerves making up the sciatic nerve.

Bone scan: This will help your doctor detect spinal problems such as osteoarthritis, fractures, or infections. You will have a very small amount of radioactive material injected into a blood vessel. That will travel through your blood stream and be absorbed by your bones. More radioactive material will be absorbed by an area where there is abnormal activity-—like an inflammation. A scanner can detect the amount of radiation in all your bones and show the “hot spots” (the areas with more radioactive material) to help your doctor figure out where the problem is.

CT myelogram: In this test, you’ll have a special dye injected into the spinal fluid around your spinal cord and nerves. (Before that happens, the area will be numbed.) Then you’ll have a CT scan done. The image will provide a detailed anatomic picture of your spine, especially of the nerves and the surrounding bone. The doctor will look for areas of compression, or pressure, on the nerves.

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