Back Stories

Spine pain and the importance of getting an X-ray

Importance of an X-ray for spine pain

Spine pain is not indicative of just one ailment or injury. You may think you’ve got a sprain, strain, or slipped disc, but it’ll take a trip to an back doctor to know for sure. And once you’re there in the DISC Spine Institute, you can expect to have an X-ray to confirm any suspicions the doctor has and develop your diagnosis.

What to expect at the spine doctor

When you see a doctor for spine pain, he or she will review your charts and medical history, ask you questions about your general health, the pain you are feeling, and potential causes, and perform a thorough examination. An X-ray is a critical part of that exam because it can help pinpoint the source of the pain and type of injury. Depending on your condition, you can expect to have one or more different types of X-rays.

“The most common spinal X-rays are of the cervical vertebrae (C-spine films) and lumbosacral vertebrae (LS-spine films),” said WebMD, but may also get :

  • Standing flexion/extension X-ray to assess the degree of instability of the involved vertebrae.  Also useful in detecting an occult spondylolisthesis.
  • A cervical spine X-ray for neck pain
  • A thoracic spine X-ray, which concentrates the imaging on the 12 thoracic or chest bones
  • A lumbosacral spine X-ray for lower back  and spine pain. “This X-ray test takes pictures of the 5 bones of the lower back (lumbar vertebrae) and a view of the 5 fused bones at the bottom of the spine (sacrum),” they said.
  • A Sacrum/coccyx X-ray. In addition to the sacrum, this provides an image of the coccyx, the bones found in the tailbone.

You may also get a special spine X-rays called “flexion and extension views” for degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis, “to see if your spine is unstable,” said DISC Spine Institute.

The right diagnosis

Many back injuries share similar symptoms, and without a confirmed diagnosis, even a leading spine specialist may not be able to determine the correct course of action to address the problem and put an end to your back pain. Physician’s that are minimally invasive back specialists seek to make a diagnosis as quickly and easily as possible, to allow patients to start the healing process immediately with as little pain as possible.

A quick and correct diagnosis is also important to make sure your back pain isn’t being caused by an illness or condition that can deteriorate into something more serious. That lower back pain that you think is the result of overuse at the gym could actually be a bulging disc. Unchecked osteoarthritis could turn into spinal stenosis.

Without an X-ray, you may also remain unaware that your back pain is actually a tumor or a condition like spondylolisthesis, which is a vertebral slip. A spinal X-ray can also reveal arthritis, a degenerative disc, and infections.

If you or your doctor suspects you have a broken bone in your back, an X-ray is done not just to make sure or rule it out, but also to “provide important information about your fracture and will help your doctor determine if your injury is new (acute) or older (chronic),” said the American Academy of Orthopaedic Specialists (AAOS). This is particularly important for older patients. “Other problems in the spine may also show up on x-rays. Elderly patients with a vertebral compression fracture may also have narrowing of disk spaces (degenerative disk disease) and/or scoliosis, which is a sideways curve of the spine.”

For more information about maintaining a healthy back, contact DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain.

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