What Can Different Spine Imaging Tests Show You?

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

Spine Imaging Tests

Imaging tests are one of if not the most useful diagnostic tools that spine specialists have access to, but some tests are better than others depending on your perceived condition. Your doctor will begin by asking about your symptoms and conducting a physical exam, but then they may move forward with an imaging test. Not all conditions can be caught by one test, so today, we’re going to look at the types of conditions that can be diagnosed by different spinal imaging tests.


An x-ray is the cheapest of the three main imaging tests, and it can also help to diagnose a number of different spinal conditions. For example, your doctor may recommend an x-ray if they believe you have a bulging disc, a herniated disc, a vertebral fracture, scoliosis or displaced spinal hardware from a previous surgery. X-rays help to show bone location and integrity, so if your doctor believes you’re dealing with a spinal bone issue, an x-ray is the likely prognosis. It’s also worth noting that although an x-ray is not the preferred option if you have a suspected bulging or herniated disc, an x-ray can help to determine wear and tear in the area, as well as a detailed look at the vertebrae surrounding the disc.


An MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce a detailed picture of the spine. It does not use radiation, and it’s great at viewing a number of different structures inside the body, including bones, soft tissues, spinal discs and nerves. An MRI can be particularly useful for disc issues, pinched spinal nerves and issues inside the spinal canal, like spinal stenosis. It is more costly than an x-ray, but it also produces a more detailed picture and can diagnose a larger range of issues.

CT Scan

A computed tomography (CT) scan is used to diagnose and rule out spinal column damage. It’s a fast and painless technique that is like an x-ray on steroids. It does involve radiation like an x-ray, but it produces a clear cross-sectional picture that can even be transferred to a 3D printer for modeling purposes. It allows the spine specialist to view the spine, soft tissues and spinal blood vessels at the same time. They can also be used in emergency situations to diagnose internal damage and bleeding. A CT scan can be used if you’ve had an implanted device, which isn’t always the case with MRI, and no radiation remains in your body after the scan. It is a very handy tool for a wide variety of spinal conditions.

If you want more information about any of these imaging tests, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Dr. Sinicropi’s office.

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