When it comes to back pain, patients are unsurprisingly interested in reliable and fast answers. There are a handful of ways a medical provider can come to a concise conclusion as to the nature of a patient’s discomfort. Depending on the location of the patient’s pain, there are many investigative options to utilize.
An X-Ray is a familiar and safe means to gain a quick snapshot of a patient’s troubled area. Using electromagnetic radiation, an X-Ray produces a black and white image for further study. Typically, this type of image will reduce visibility of tissue, allowing a doctor close study of the solid structure therein. Any metal—such as would be present after other spinal procedures—as well as bone will appear bright on the final image. X-Rays are ideal in most cases as they are generally noninvasive, are relatively quick, and provide a clear picture of the issue.
One of the best imaging tests used for back pain is myelography. The difference in this procedure is the inclusion of a spinal needle which is used to introduce additional visual contrast. Proper patient care should be carefully noted during this procedure as it is much more involved than basic X-Ray imaging. Myelography is also a real time procedure. The technician is able to watch the passage of the injected fluid via the X-Ray machine through the spinal canal and into the various roots and surrounding tissues. This technique allows for very detailed studies of a patient’s potential issues.
The next most common method of looking into back pain is with a CT scan. This involves a patient being scanned by a circular X-Ray machine from multiple angles. The result is a 3D image. Additionally, CT scans tend to express tissues, muscle, and organs more clearly. If the origin of the back pain is related to musculature rather than joints or deep spinal issues, than a CT scan will provide an excellent glimpse of both the bones and their interaction with the surrounding areas.
The final type of imaging technology used in diagnosing back pain is an MRI scan. If the issue concerns damage to the area around the spine, MRIs can be one of the best imaging tests used for back pain. This type of medical imaging differs from X-Ray based technology by utilizing radio waves rather than radiation. Using the familiar machine which encases the patient, a reliable image can be produced. Typically, MRIs are best for studying muscles, ligaments, and soft tissues.