Diagnostic Process for Spine Injuries

Getting to the bottom of what caused a spine injury involves a thorough diagnostic process. These are not the diagnostic processes used for emergencies, such as a suspected spinal cord injury. Think of these various diagnostic tests as sleuthing to get to the root cause of your back pain. You will not necessarily undergo every type of diagnostic test, unless the cause of your back pain is especially difficult to diagnose. Contact an experienced doctor to learn more about the process for diagnosing spine injuries.

Medical History

The first step in the diagnostic process is to take a patient’s complete medical history. The doctor typically wants to know where the pain is located, the scale of the pain, and if the patient can pinpoint any activity – such as heavy lifting – that may have triggered it.

Other questions may include whether the pain spreads to other parts of the body, if the patient is experiencing bladder or bowel issues, and what exacerbates the discomfort. The doctor may also want to know whether there is a history of osteoporosis in the patient’s family, whether the patient has recently experienced a quick weight loss, and whether the patient has any history of using steroids or similar medications.

Physical Examination

In the course of determining a patient’s medical history and current condition, the doctor may perform a physical examination to search for pain sources and causes. They may ask the patient to perform certain movements and observe whether the patient has any difficulties with them. The patient may also be asked to undergo certain tasks that could reveal muscle or other weaknesses.

Diagnostic Tests

Diagnostic tests for spine injuries may include X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, and myelograms. Each plays a specific role in the diagnostic process, and the doctor typically seeks to find or determine something different with each test. X-ray tests show whether there any changes to the bones, such as fractures or vertebral degeneration. X-rays can also reveal whether the spacing in between the intervertebral disks has decreased or if any bone spurs have developed.

Magnetic resonance imaging—commonly referred to as an MRI—shows the condition of soft tissues in the spinal area. In addition, the doctor can use an MRI to view any changes in the water content of disks as well as herniated disks and the narrowing of the spinal canal known as stenosis.

CAT scans reveal bone and soft tissue abnormalities. With both a CAT scan and the MRI, the patient lies on a table and is placed inside a large scanner to undergo the procedure. Finally, a myelogram test allows the doctor to look at the spinal cord and spinal canal. A spinal tap is necessary, and a dye is injected into the spinal sac. This dye is clearly shown on X-rays, outlining nerve roots and the spinal cord for the doctor’s viewing.

Additional Types of Diagnostic Tests

Depending on the circumstances, a doctor may use bone scans and discrograms to diagnose spine injuries as well. During a bone scan, a radioactive chemical that seeks out rapidly changing bone areas is injected into the patient’s bloodstream intravenously. A special camera can then photograph these areas and reveal problems. A bone scan is most often performed when other tests do not delineate exactly where the spinal problem lies.

If intervertebral disk damage is suspected, a discogram could show which disks are damaged. This test involves injecting dye into the middle of suspected injured disks. The condition of the disks is then shown via an X-ray.

Speak with One of Our Spine Surgeons Today

If you are suffering from spinal issues, it is crucial to receive an accurate diagnosis so that proper treatment may commence. Call our office today and make an appointment for a thorough examination.