Back Pain Diagnosis: Diagnostic Tests for Indicators of Back Pain

Diagnostic tests can indicate if a patient's back pain is due to an anatomic cause. However, because diagnostic tests in and of themselves are not a diagnosis, arriving at an accurate clinical diagnosis requires any test to be to be correlated with the patient's back pain symptoms and physical exam.

The most common diagnostic tests include:

  • X-ray. This test provides information on the bones in the spine. An x-ray is often used to check for spinal instability (such as spondylolisthesis), tumors and fractures.
  • CT scan. This test is a very detailed x-ray that includes cross section images. CT scans provide details about the bones in the spine. They may also be used to check for specific conditions, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. CT scans tend to be less accurate for spinal disorders than MRI scans.
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Injections may also be used to help diagnose certain types of pain. If an injection of a pain relieving medication into a certain spot in the spine provides back pain relief, than it confirms that is the area causing pain.

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