Introduction to Diagnostic Studies for Back and Neck Pain

Diagnostic studies are used to confirm an anatomical lesion (injury) as a cause of back pain or neck pain. They are particularly useful to pinpoint the source and extent of the injury to assist in the diagnosis and development of an appropriate treatment plan for the patient's back problems.

Patients are usually advised to complete a period of conservative care (nonsurgical), usually at least four to six weeks from the onset of back pain symptoms, before obtaining any type of diagnostic study.

The only instance that an imaging study is immediately necessary is if a patient experiences bowel or bladder incontinence or progressive neurological loss of function, such as progressive weakness.

See Special Considerations for a Neck or Back Pain Diagnosis

Types of Diagnostic Imaging Technologies for Back Pain

There are several types of diagnostic imaging technologies and techniques available to assist in accurately diagnosing the anatomical injury that is causing back pain.

  • X-rays, the most common and inexpensive form of imaging, are usually obtained first.
  • Then, based on the result of the x-ray, a back pain treatment plan may be developed or increasingly more sophisticated imaging studies may be completed to more precisely define the source and extent of the anatomical structure that is causing pain.

Injections for Back Pain Relief and Diagnosis

Some injections are used both for back pain relief and diagnostic purposes and are included on the injections portion of the site. Please see the Injections Information Center for more information.