Diagnostic tests for back pain

Diagnostic Tests for Back PainYou’re ready for answers. As months turn into years, the lower back pain you’ve been treating is slowly worsening, while over-the-counter pain medications have become a waste of your hard-earned dollars. But where should you start?

Your doctor may begin by reviewing your medical history and performing a physical exam to get a better idea of the spine condition you may be experiencing. Once these details are reviewed by your physician, medical imaging or testing — also known as diagnostic testing — may be recommended to help diagnose your chronic back pain.

“Diagnostic tests assist us in determining the anatomical challenges that a person is facing with back pain,” said Dr. Jeffrey Langmaid, D.C., a Consult Physician at Laser Spine Institute. “We’re able to connect these results with our history and physical examination to provide the most accurate diagnosis and plan of care.”

To take a deeper look at the cause of your back pain, your doctor may recommend tests such as:


X-rays use small amounts of radiation to take single shot photographs inside the body. For each X-ray taken, one photograph is produced. This type of medical imaging is often used to look for injury, bone damage or foreign objects in the body.

CT scan

CT scans produce multiple images, instead of single shot photographs. This provides more depth and detail. Similar to X-rays, CT scan images are very useful in visualizing bone and hard tissue. According to Dr. Langmaid, a typical imaging series for the lower back would provide about three X-ray images, while a CT scan would provide well over 160 images, depending upon the presentation of the patient.


MRI, also known as magnetic resonance imaging, uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of soft tissue and structures inside the body. To address back pain, an MRI scan provides doctors with the ability to visualize soft tissue, which typically resides around the nerves, ligaments, muscles and discs in the spine.

While there are many other tools to help identify the source of chronic back pain, some others can include discograms, nerve conduction studies or selective nerve root blocks.

Selective Nerve Root Block

A selective nerve root block (SNRB) is a diagnostic, nontherapeutic injection that has the capability of pinpointing which nerve root is causing pain. It typically provides 15 minutes to an hour of relief, and is used as a guide to help physicians determine if surgery would successfully provide relief for a patient.

“If a patient receives significant relief from their symptoms after an SNRB injection — and other diagnostic steps have led us in this direction — then we have a very good assessment of which nerve root is the primary culprit,” said Dr. Langmaid. “It’s one of our primary diagnostic tools at Laser Spine Institute.”

If you’ve already undergone some diagnostic testing with unsuccessful conservative treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute to get a review of your MRI or CT images. Our Care Team is here to help you take the next step in your journey to relief.


Be the first to reply.

Leave a comment