The first thing that most doctors will do when you see them about a persistent case of back pain will be to ask you a series of questions. They’ll want to know when the pain started and for how long you’ve been having it. You may be asked if your family has a history of back pain.
All these questions serve a purpose. The doctor is trying to ascertain if you have chronic pain, acute pain or if there’s some other underlying cause. In most cases, back pain tends to diminish and disappear after about a month or six weeks.
However, if the pain persists, there are a few diagnostic tests that your doctor may resort to. These tests have several purposes. They’ll be able to detect if the back pain is due to a tumor, cancer or some other problem.
If the patient has lost bladder control, it could be a serious problem where the spinal cord is under pressure. These tests will be able to detect why the problem is occurring. There are many possible causes from spinal infections to osteoporosis. These are best detected using advanced diagnostic tests.
Of course, this is the most popular and common one that doctors resort to in the first stage. The high frequency radiation, will detect bone problems, tumors, infections, etc. It’s a painless process and this test will reveal several issues that aren’t outwardly visible.
Computed tomography scan
Also known as the ‘CT scan’, this diagnostic test is similar to an X-ray and often done together with a myelogram. A CT scan can detect nerve issues in the back, affected discs, spinal stenosis and much more.
Unlike an X-ray which can be done standing up, a CT scan will require you to lie on a table while your body is scanned.
Magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI)
Like the CT scan, you’ll need to lie down while the scan is being done. Unlike an X-ray machine, MRI scans use radio and magnetic waves to produce the images that you see on the screen. These scans can detect dehydrated discs, facet joint issues and many other possible causes of back pain.
In many cases, the point of pain may not necessarily be where the pain originates. For example, shooting pains down your leg is an indicator of sciatica. The issue is not with your leg, but your lower back.
This is the type of scan you’d expect to see in a movie. It is very useful for detecting the specific part of the spine where the problem is occurring. The test is done by injecting the patient with a chemical that goes directly into their bloodstream.
The chemical will adhere to parts of the bone that are affected. A special camera is then used to detect the chemical in the body. The parts of the bone that are darker are the parts that are affected. This is an excellent way to detect bone density problems, tumors, infections, etc.
These can help determine whether you have an infection or other condition that might be causing your pain like inflammatory arthritis.
Nerve conduction tests
Electromyography (EMG) measures the electrical impulses produced by the nerves and the responses of your muscles. This test can confirm nerve compression caused by herniated disks or narrowing of your spinal canal (spinal stenosis).
I have personally had all of the above except the bone scans and I have found in the past that the MRI and nerve conduction tests have shown up my problems the best but everyone is different. The 4 scans above are the most commonly used ones. You can also find out lots more on the NHS website.
Your doctor will be the best person to advise you on the different tests and which ones will yield the best results when used to diagnose your condition.