A CT (computed tomography) scan is one of the most commonly used tests for diagnosing back and neck pain. This test is painless, noninvasive, and performed on an outpatient basis. The scan itself takes only a few minutes to complete and the results are typically available within a few days (sometimes even sooner). There are no major preparation requirements, although a patient may be instructed not to eat or drink anything for a few hours before a scan.
How Does a CT Scan Work?
CT scans work by using ionizing radiation to produce images of the body. While a patient lies inside a scanner, X-Rays are aimed at the targeted area and quickly rotated around the body. The resulting cross-sectional images are then combined into one three-dimensional image. Sometimes a patient is given a contrast agent prior to scan, which can make certain structures show up with enhanced clarity in the final images.
Additionally, CT scans can produce images of all types of tissue – not just bones, as is the case with conventional X-Rays. CT scans can show bones, muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues, making these images exceptionally useful for diagnosing neck and back problems.
When Might a CT Scan be Recommended?
A CT scan for back pain may be recommended if a person has been experiencing symptoms for several consecutive weeks and has not seen any improvement using at-home remedies. Typically, diagnostic imaging tests aren’t advised prior to this point because, in many situations, back pain goes away on its own. A CT scan might be recommended, however, if a physician suspects that a patient might have:
- A herniated disc
- Degenerative disc disease
- A bone spur
- Spinal stenosis
- Another common neck or back condition
Sometimes, a CT scan might be used if a patient has any type of metallic implant in their body, as CT scans do not use magnets like MRI scans do. In other cases, a CT scan for back pain is performed alongside one or more other tests, such as an MRI, bone scan, or diagnostic injection. Taking a thorough approach to back pain diagnosis can increase the likelihood of accurately pinpointing the condition, developing an appropriate treatment plan and getting a person back to their daily life.
BEST Health System
If you have been living with back pain and have realized that it is diminishing your quality of life, reach out to BEST today. Our team is dedicated to giving all patients the relief they need and deserve. Get started on your path to recovery today – the BEST is yet to come.