When you come to the Southeastern Spine Institute (SSI) because you’re experiencing back pain, the first step for your doctor is to make an accurate diagnosis. Only with the right diagnosis can a spine specialist prescribe the appropriate treatment. The spinal physicians at SSI have many resources available to them to help diagnose exactly what’s causing your back pain, including:
Your doctor also performs a physical exam, takes a medical history and asks you questions about your back pain. But these more definitive tests can confirm an early diagnosis or eliminate causes from consideration. The type of test your doctor orders depends on a number of factors, as each diagnostic test can show something new.
A digital X-ray takes a digital picture of your bones. While the X-ray machine uses radiation to penetrate your body, the process no longer requires film and the chemicals needed to develop it. X-rays have been in use for decades without any serious problems.
X-rays are often the first step to a diagnosis. They can reveal any problems with your actual vertebrae or spinal bones. They also can show any alignment or slippage of your bones. So X-rays can confirm a slipped disc or bone spur as the source of your pain.
While an X-ray takes a single picture, a fluoroscope takes X-rays and sends the images to a monitor. A fluoroscope is like a continuous X-ray, providing live images to a TV screen. Your doctor can view the monitor to perform certain procedures, such as pain blocks or steroid injections.
In the strictest sense, a digital fluoroscope isn’t a diagnostic tool, but it’s vital when performing such delicate diagnostic, pain-relieving procedures as nerve blocks. In these procedures, your doctor injects anti-inflammatory medication directly into the epidural layer of your spine. A fluoroscope makes the procedure possible.
Where X-rays and fluoroscopy show bones, an MRI can see soft tissue, revealing problems with your vertebral discs, inflamed nerves or even ligament, tendon and muscle damage. The MRI machine uses a giant tube into which you’re rolled. The tube initiates a magnetic field. Radio waves sent through the tube at specific locations capture a cross-sectional image of your body.
When your spinal physician reads the MRI images, he often can determine the cause of your back pain. Nerve damage and inflamed tissue that doesn’t show up on an X-ray can’t hide from an MRI. When an X-ray doesn’t show any abnormalities, an MRI is often the next step in the diagnostic process.
Ultrasound is a diagnostic tool that uses sound waves instead of radiation. Therefore, it’s the preferred method for testing pregnant patients and others for whom an X-ray is either unsafe or unwise. Like an MRI, an ultrasound gives your spine doctor a view of your soft tissue.
Often used to see muscle inflammation or tears, this is the same technology used to view fetuses. Your doctor often uses a gel on the surface of your skin, passing a handheld device back and forth across your skin. The live images are sent to a monitor.
When you have back pain, your doctor at SSI has the tools he needs to isolate the cause of your pain. He orders an X-ray, a fluoroscope, an MRI or an ultrasound depending on what he suspects the cause is. All these procedures are safe and painless. Contact us for more information.