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How Are Spinal Conditions Diagnosed?

At 360 Back & Spine Center, a conservative approach is used to diagnose several spinal conditions including scoliosis and decompression. Through a partnership with our patients, we ensure that no decision regarding comprehensive treatment of all back and neck conditions is made without full patient understanding.

Pain is an unfortunate reality with spinal conditions. However, pain can also help a doctor to make an accurate diagnosis. Prior to the diagnosis of any spinal condition, there are many tasks that a doctor must perform in order to accurately identify the cause of pain and make an accurate determination. There are many types of pain which can indicate a wide array of spinal conditions.

Diagnosing Spine X-ray

Are You Experiencing Possible Spinal Condition Symptoms?

Knowing your symptoms will allow for better communication with your doctor. Every spinal condition has a different symptom or set of symptoms. Below are some of the more commonly diagnosed conditions and their symptoms.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis has occurred when the spinal nerve roots in the lower back (lumbar stenosis) or the spinal cord in the neck (cervical spinal stenosis) have been compressed. Cervical spinal stenosis is typically characterized by arm or leg pain. Commonly, pain develops slowly over time and comes and goes.

Stenosis pain can occur only during certain activities, such as when standing upright, cycling where the head is held upright, or walking. Usually, any pain triggered by one of the above activities is relieved when sitting, lying down, or flexing forward.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is commonly encountered by North Dallas spine centers in which the spine curves sideways. Although most cases are mild, some cases will require bracing or surgical intervention; otherwise, they will be disabling. Typically, scoliosis presents no symptoms until the curvature of the spine has progressed to a moderate or severe level.

Often, in moderate cases, stenosis can be evident in ill-fitting clothing which hangs unevenly or doesn’t fit properly otherwise. The spine can appear to be crooked, or the ribs can appear to protrude.

Herniated Disc

Another very common spinal condition is a herniated disc. This condition, also known as “slipped disc” typically occurs as the result of the natural aging process. Years of wear and movement causes the spine to deteriorate gradually, which makes disc material—the cushion between the vertebrae in the spine—more vulnerable to displacement.

Man dealing with Upper and lower Back Pain

However, a herniated disc can be caused by other factors, such as direct injury to the spine, family medical history of spinal problems, and repetitive strain injury, to name a few. Some cases of herniated disc will exhibit no symptoms. Other cases may involve numbness in the extremities, radiating pain, or muscle weakness.

Physical History

Making the determination of the presence of a spinal condition will require you to provide a complete physical history. A doctor may ask you to complete a form that asks questions about your pain. The more information you are able to provide, the more effective the diagnosis of your particular condition will be.

Once you’ve completed the form, a doctor in your south Texas spinal clinic may need additional information. This might include asking you about the location and intensity of your pain, when it first began, what makes your pain worse or better, and whether you sustained any injury that may have caused your pain initially.

Examination

The physical examination follows the discussion of pain with your doctor. He or she will use the physical examination to identify and rule out possible causes of pain. Doctors may concentrate on particular areas of the body where you told them you were experiencing pain.

Your physical examination will also likely include checks of your neck and spinal motion, as well as sensory and reflex changes, muscle strength, motor skills, and other signs. The flexibility of your neck and spine, as well as any pain when you move, bend, or twist will be noted.

Sensory changes include numbness or pins and needles in specific areas, such as the feet or hands. Where reflexes are concerned, your doctor will check for changes in your tendon reflexes—most commonly, under the Achilles tendon and under the kneecap.

Muscle strength can be tested in various ways, including pushing the arm or leg against light resistance or by lifting an arm or a leg. As far as motor skills, your doctor may ask you to walk on your heels and your toes.

Your physical examination will also include checks for other signs which may indicate something other than a spinal condition, such as abnormal pulse or tenderness in particular areas of the body.

Testing

Texas back institute centers offer several different tests that a doctor can use to diagnose spinal problems. Each one provides your doctor with a different set of details about your pain and possible spinal condition.

The MRI

An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, provides a clear picture of the soft tissues in the body. Therefore, it is ideal for diagnosing damage to nerves and other tissues. The MRI will be a likely test if your doctor suspects issues with your discs.

Man undergoing MRI

Before you do this, however, you need to be aware that, because of the magnet used in the MRI, you may be at risk if you have a pacemaker or other implant, tattoos, hearing aids, pain patches, or other items which contain metal, including jewelry and some types of metal-containing leisure wear.

Testing via MRI will require you to lie down on a table that slides into the scanner. You will need to lie still, and the technician may ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds.

CT Scan

Computed Tomography or CT scans are special types of x-rays which provide incredibly detailed images. These images appear in cross-sectional pictures which can be viewed individually or layered on top of one another. CT gives a doctor the ability to diagnose conditions like broken bones or pelvic obstructions that can mimic spinal condition symptoms.

The CT scanner also requires you to lie on a table that moves into the scanner. Like the MRI, it’s important that you lie still in order to complete spinal diagnostics. Also, like the MRI, you may be asked to hold your breath during a CT scan to prevent blurring and loss of image quality.

You will need to remove any metal-containing items prior to a CT scan, as these can also interfere with image quality. As well, you should be aware that the CT scan will expose you to radiation. Therefore, you must inform your doctor if you are pregnant or if you do not wish to undergo radiation exposure.

X-Ray

The x-ray uses electromagnetic radiation to take an image of the body’s bones and dense tissue. The resulting image is a radiograph, which is a black and gray image of bones, muscle, fluid, and fat. Like the CT scan, the x-ray will expose you to radiation, albeit to a far lesser degree. Still, if you are pregnant, you need to inform your doctor before undergoing the test.

Spinal X-ray

Removing jewelry will allow for an unobstructed image. You may be asked to assume a number of different positions so that an accurate image can be taken. Several shots may need to be obtained. A radiologist will analyze the images before sending them to your doctor for further examination.

Treatment

Options for the treatment of spinal conditions can include surgery, as well as comprehensive but non-surgical methods.

ESI

If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal stenosis or a herniated disc, your doctor may recommend an epidural injection or ESI. These injections are helpful for treating pain associated with nerve irritation due to lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms or prior to herniated disc replacement. Once injected, the medication coats the problem area, absorbing into the joints and reducing inflammation.

Spinal Rehabilitation

One form of non-invasive treatment for spinal conditions is spinal rehabilitation. Rehabilitation will help you learn how to reduce your pain, as well as prevent future problems. In order to begin rehabilitation, you may need to answer more questions regarding your condition so that the physical therapist can target the source of pain and recommend a rehab plan.

Spinal rehabilitation may include a series of flexibility, stabilization, and other exercises which normalize spinal motion and strengthen the back muscles so they can better support the spinal column.

Bracing

In cases where a spinal deformity or disorder has been diagnosed, it may be necessary to use a back or neck brace. Bracing will provide external structural support to the back and neck to help encourage healing of the affected areas where injury has occurred. The use of braces over time will allow for the gradual improvement of spinal conditions due to disorder or deformity.

Finding the Right Assistance for Your Spinal Condition

When you require the assistance of a professional to correct your back, neck, or spinal condition, 360 Back & Spine Center can be your solution. Our specialists offer a range of comprehensive treatments that include non-invasive options to help make it easier to live with many types of painful back, neck, and spinal problems.

Instead of suffering, learn more about the many benefits that 360 Back & Spine Center’s neck and Dallas spine surgeons can offer, by calling (682) 808-4389.