In this day and age we have a variety of different tests/scans available to help make an accurate diagnosis. Often patients do not understand why they are having the test and what exactly the ordering healthcare professional is looking for. Below is a list of commonly used tests concerned with diagnosis of spinal pain, muscle pain, or nerve pain.
1. X-ray (radiograph) – Commonly used when fracture, dislocation or other bony pathology is in question. Soft tissues such as muscles, nerves, or discs of the spine are very poorly visualized, if at all.
2. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – Commonly used to diagnosis disc herniations, muscle/tendon tears, ligament damage, tumor as well as a host of other pathology. It should be noted that MRI uses very large and powerful magnets, hence the name, to obtain the images. There is no radiation dose with MRI unlike X-ray or CT scan.
3. CT scan (computerized tomography) – Commonly used to quickly diagnosis internal injuries to the abdomen, chest or brain. Often used with injected contrast material. A CT scan involves taking a series of x-rays through the affected area, much like slices of bread in a loaf. CT scans are general considered less discerning between different tissue types. For this reason they are used less often for musculo-skeletal diagnosis outside of a hospital setting.
4. EMG (electromyography) – EMG is primarily used to diagnosis nerve or muscular pathology. An EMG measures the nerve pathways in the body and is able to assess the health of your muscles and nerves that control them. EMG is commonly used to assess which structures are damaged in carpal tunnel type syndromes or with pinched nerves in the neck or back.
5. Bone Scan – A bone scan is commonly used to diagnosis bone diseases that may not be visible on x-ray. Bone scan is frequently used in to track potential spread of cancer. A bone scan may also be used for more benign conditions such as osteoporosis or suspected bone infection.
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