Back Pain in the Picture: Which Imaging Scans Can Help With Diagnosis?

October 21, 2022 – 4 min read

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Back Pain in the Picture: Which Imaging Scans Can Help Find a Diagnosis?

Your busy life makes it easy to put your nagging back pain on the back burner. Sometimes, symptoms go away with rest or time. But ongoing pain can make it challenging to spend time with your family, fulfill work obligations, and have a social life, as well as interfering with your ability to take care of others. Put yourself first and get the care you need. If you end up visiting a doctor to understand what’s causing your symptoms, a key step toward finding relief and moving beyond back pain may be undergoing an imaging scan.

Your doctor may order a diagnostic imaging scan, such as an MRI scan, CT scan, or X-ray, to gain inside-the-body insight into the discomfort. This information can help your doctor pinpoint the reason for your back pain, which will guide your treatment plan. If your doctor orders an imaging scan for back pain, you can turn to American Health Imaging (AHI) to find the service you need quickly and conveniently.

Common causes of back pain

Before your doctor can recommend a way to reduce or eliminate back pain, he or she must determine what’s causing it. There’s no shortage of possibilities. Back pain has many common causes, including:

  • Compression fractures. If you have osteoporosis—weakening of the bones—you have a higher risk of the bones in your spine collapsing and compressing.
  • Disk disease. Back pain can occur when the intervertebral disks that act as cushions between your vertebrae deteriorate.
  • Herniated disk. If an intervertebral disk weakens, it can shift out of place or rupture. This can allow the disk to press against the spinal nerves and cause pain.
  • Injuries to soft tissues. Overstretching or tearing a muscle or tendon—known as a strain—is a common low-back injury. Similar to strains and tears, sprains involve overstretching or tearing soft tissues, but these injuries affect ligaments.
  • Spinal abnormalities. One of the most common abnormalities is scoliosis, which is when the spine curves to one side. This abnormal curvature can cause back pain.
  • Spinal conditions. A range of conditions can cause back pain, including arthritis and various infections.
  • Spinal stenosis. As you age, arthritis or another musculoskeletal disease may cause your spinal column to narrow. Known as stenosis, this narrowing can cause the bone to press against the nerves of the spinal cord, causing pain.
  • Over time, vertebrae may shift position and, potentially, cause pain if this movement puts pressure on the spinal nerves.

Scans that can help identify the reason for discomfort

Anytime you have aches and pains, your doctor may use a variety of methods—often starting with a physical exam—to find their source. Imaging can be an important piece of the diagnostic puzzle.

Which imaging scan might your doctor order, and why?

  • You may need to undergo a CT scan if your doctor suspects the back pain might stem from a bone problem. Using X-ray radiation, CT excels at showing bone. It can help identify scoliosis, spinal stenosis, and fractures of the spine. CT can also help doctors diagnose non-bone-related causes of back pain, including tumors and herniated disks.
  • Your doctor may order an MRI of the cervical or lumbar spine for suspected disk disease or traumatic injury. An MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of bones and soft tissues. In addition to disk problems and severe injuries, an MRI can show spinal infections, tumors, and compression.
  • A minimally invasive procedure called a myelogram can help diagnose conditions affecting the spinal cord and spinal canal, such as herniated disks and spinal stenosis. You’ll receive an injection of contrast dye, and a radiologist will use fluoroscopy—a type of X-ray imaging—to observe how the fluid moves through the spinal cord in real time.
  • Primarily used to show bones, an X-ray is less versatile than an MRI or CT. However, an X-ray can be quite useful for identifying fractures and abnormal spinal curvatures, such as scoliosis.

Why you should move back pain to the front burner

No one wants to live with an aching back, so there are numerous reasons for people with lower back pain to seek care promptly.

If your doctor orders an imaging scan for back pain, don’t sit on it—get it done quickly so you and your doctor can get answers and move on to treatment.

AHI makes it easy to fit an imaging scan into your schedule and budget. We offer convenient centers, same-day and next-day appointments, and a wide array of comprehensive, cost-effective services. We want to help you turn the page on back pain.


Have an order from your doctor to undergo an imaging scan for back pain? Request an appointment at American Health Imaging.