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All About Diagnostic Imaging Tests

If you are experiencing spine pain, the first step in treatment is determining the source of your pain. Often times, your spine expert will order a diagnostic imaging test to aid in making an accurate diagnosis. Only with the proper diagnosis can a spine expert, such as Dr. Timothy Keenen of Pacific Spine Specialists, prescribe the appropriate treatment. For patients, there are many different types of diagnostic imaging tests available, so it is best to understand what these tests are and the purpose they serve.

Below is a detailed explanation of the 3 most popular diagnostic imaging tests used for spine pain. The type of test ordered by your spine expert depends on a number of factors since each diagnostic test can rel something new. If you are experiencing spine pain, you may receive one or more of the following:

  1. X-ray: In many cases, x-rays are often the first step to a diagnosis and work by taking pictures of your bones through the use of radiation.  X-rays are used to examine a patient’s vertebrae or spinal bones and identify any problems or conditions, such as misalignment or slippage of your bones. X-rays can be used to confirm a slipped disc or bone spur as the source of your pain.
  2. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI is used to exam soft tissue, revealing problems with your vertebral discs, inflamed nerves, or even ligament, tendon and muscle damage. The MRI images can aid your spine expert in determining the cause of your spine pain that may not have appeared on a x-ray, such as nerve damage and inflamed tissue. An MRI is performed through the use of an MRI machine, which resembles a giant tube into which the patient is inserted. The tube initiates a magnetic field and radio waves are sent through the tube at specific locations to capture a cross-sectional image of the body. When an X-ray doesn’t show any abnormalities, an MRI is often the next step in the diagnostic process.
  3. Ultrasound: Much like an x-ray uses radiation to produce an image, an ultrasound uses sound waves. An ultrasound can be used to examine soft tissue to identify conditions such as muscle inflammation or tears. In certain cases where an x-ray may not be a safe option, such as during pregnancy, an ultrasound may be ordered. An ultrasound is performed using gel on the surface of the skin and passing a handheld device back and forth across the gel. The live images are then sent to a monitor.

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When you visit Pacific Spine Specialists for your spine pain, first and foremost Dr. Keenen will perform a physical exam, take your medical history, and ask you questions pertaining to your pain. From there, he may recommend one of the tests above to isolate the cause of your pain. Rest assured at all 3 of these imaging tests are safe and painless. Contact us today for more information.