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Top 7 Diagnostic Imaging Tests

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Updated June 15, 2007

Getting a diagnosis for back pain sometimes (but not always) involves imaging tests. The tests help doctors to see the condition of the spine, yielding information which is then used to correlate with signs and symptoms of the patient's back pain. Rather than providing a diagnosis, medical imaging tests will confirm a lesion. Below are the most common medical imaging tests used in the back pain diagnosis process.

1. X-ray

An x-ray is a very familiar type of imaging to most people. It cannot see everything, however. For example, it cannot show images of the intervertebral disk. X-rays are generally used to detect spinal fractures.

2. MRI

The MRI is a large, loud machine that offers views of the spine that the x-ray cannot. Unlike the x-ray, an MRI test will give views from many angles. MRIs show the condition of the spinal nerve roots very well, as well as other back problems. A new type of MRI, called the upright or positional MRI can provide view of the spine from various body positions.

3. CT Scan

The CT scan could be understood as a cross between an x-ray and an MRI. The CT scan delivers more radiation than the other diagnostic imaging techniques.

4. Myelogram

The myelogram involves an injection of dye into the spine. Myelograms are good tools for determining problems relating to the nerves that exit the spine.

5. Discogram

There is controversy around the use of the discogram as a diagnostic imaging technique. It is a very subjective technique, which means that possibly the patient may experience pain as a result of the test. Discograms share similarities with myleograms.

6. Thermography

Thermography, as the name implies, measures heat in the body. Thermography is fairly new on the diagnostic imaging scene, so time will tell about how it is best used to determine the cause of back or neck pain.

7. MR Neurography - MRN

Magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) is a new type of adapted MRI that can take pictures of nerves. MRN can be used to diagnose conditions like sciatica and piriformis syndrome, as well as pinpoint the source of related nerve pain. However, at this point, MRN is so new that it is not widely available at most doctors' offices and hospitals.
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