MRI Scan

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging.  This is an imaging study for your spine.

The MRI scanner uses magnetism and radio waves to study your spine.  Computers then convert theses signals to pictures that your doctors can read.  No radiation is used like x-rays or CT scans.

MRI scans are especially good at looking at the soft tissues of the spine.  They can identify herniated or ruptured discs, pinched nerves, degenerative discs, infection of the spine, etc.

You will feel no pain or discomfort while the scan is being done.  There are no known side effects.  You may hear rhythmic tapping noises during the scan and earplugs or headphones are usually available.  Certain MRI scans require the injection of a contrast material to enhance the details of the exam.

The scan usually takes 20-40 minutes depending on what parts of the body are scanned.  If you are claustrophobic, a mild tranquilizer can be given or your exam can be done in the Open Scanner.

The MRI scan will be performed at an MRI Center.  You will be given directions/maps of this as well as an appointment time.

Bone Scan

You have been scheduled for a bone scan.  This is a test which is very sensitive for detecting any abnormal activity in your bones.  This test requires a needle stick to inject a radioactive dye into your bloodstream.  The radiation exposure is minimal and is actually less than you would get from a routine chest x-ray.

The dye is taken up by the cells of your body and is mostly concentrated in your bones.  Any bone that has an abnormality of almost any kind will take up either more or less of the dye than the rest of your bones.  The images obtained during the test will identify these abnormal areas and help localize your problem.

Myelogram/CT Scan

A myelogram/CT scan is an outpatient diagnostic test that has been recommended by your doctor.  The test is performed by the radiologist (X-ray doctor) at the hospital at a prearranged time.

The radiologist will insert a needle into your back (spinal tap) and dye will then be injected into the spine.  You might experience slight discomfort as the needle is inserted and the dye injected.  You will then lay on an X-ray table as X-rays are taken

Following the myelogram, a CT scan will be done of your spine.  This part of the test is painless and requires that you lie flat and still in a doughnut shaped machine

A myelogram/CT scan has the ability to show "pinched nerves" due to such conditions as herniated discs or bone spurs.  This test will help your doctor determine the cause of your pain and help him formulate a treatment plan.

After your myelogram/CT scan you will be sent home.  An appointment will be made for you to discuss the results with your doctor.

In preparation for the test, do not eat any solids after midnight before the test.  After midnight before you can have clear liquids.  You can eat and drink after the test.  We encourage you to drink 6-8 cups of fluid during the 8 hours after the test to flush the dye out of your body.

You will need someone to drive you to and from the hospital.  The myelogram takes about 30 minutes and the CT scan take about 30 minutes.  Expect to be in the hospital approximately 4 hours (this is variable).


A discogram is a diagnostic test that has been recommended by your doctor.  This test will be performed by your doctor at the hospital at a pre-arranged time.

The doctor will insert usually 1 to 3 needles into your back into the lumbar discs.  Dye will then be injected into the discs.  Your doctor will then take x-rays to observe the dye inside the disc space.  He will also ask you what level of pain you have when each disc is injected.  This will help your doctor identify the painful problematic disc.

You will be awake for this procedure, but a nurse or anesthesia doctor will give you medicine to relax you.  Following the discogram, your doctor may have a post discography CT Scan done.  This test in non-painful.

The results of the discogram and CT Scan will take several days to compile.  Your doctor will see you back in the office 1-2 weeks afterwards to discuss the results and to formulate a treatment plan.

Your back pain may flare up for a few hours after this testing, but your doctor will send you home on some pain medications.  This should resolve within 12-24 hours.

CAT Scan (Computer Assisted Tomography)

A CT scan is a diagnostic test ordered by your doctor.  The test will be performed at the hospital at a prearranged time.

This test is completely painless.  You will need to lay flat and still in the CT scanner.  This is a doughnut shaped machine open on both ends.  This test usually takes about 30-45 minutes.  You can expect to be in the hospital approximately 2 hours (this is variable).

You should be able to drive yourself to and from the test.

This test has the ability to show "pinched nerves" due to conditions such as herniated discs or bone spurs.  Also, sometimes patients may have a loose spot in a previous spinal fusion and this test can detect this.

After the test, an appointment will be made with your doctor to go over the results and to formulate a treatment plan.

EMG (Electromyogram) and NCV (Nerve Conduction Velocity)

You have been scheduled for an EMG/NCV.  This is a test which checks the function of your muscles and nerves.  Muscle function can be affected by certain medical conditions and also by problems with the nerves that innervate them.  Nerve function can be affected by certain medical conditions and by mechanical pinching of the nerves.  This test helps to identify these problems.

This test requires the placement of gels and pads onto the skin and also the placement of small needles.  Most people experience only mild discomfort and perhaps a tingling sensation during the test.  You may also experience some mild muscle soreness after the test.

Epidural Steroid Injections

Epidural steroid injections are performed by an anesthesiologist.  During this procedure, a needle is placed in your back into the epidural space.  This space surrounds the spinal nerves in your lumbar spine or low back. A local anesthetic is used in the skin, but some discomfort is associated with the injection.  A mixture of a steroid (prednisone) along with saline solution is injected.  The majority of people who receive this will benefit in terms of partial to complete relief of their back and or leg pain.  Sometimes the pain relief is permanent, other times it is temporary.

These will be performed as an outpatient at the hospital.  They are done while you are awake.  It will be necessary to have a driver to take you home.  There is a small chance that you will get a headache or some persistent pain at the sight of injection, but otherwise this is a remarkably safe procedure.  The actual epidural injection takes just a few minutes but you will be watched for about 60 minutes afterwards to make sure you have no side effects.  Plan to be in the hospital approximately 2 hours (this is variable).

Pars Injection

A pars injection is performed by your doctor as an outpatient.  You will be taken to an operating room and the test will be performed while you are awake under heavy I.V. sedation.  This is performed in patients with spondylolisthesis.  During this injection your doctor will place a needle in the part of your spine where the stress fracture that led to your spondylolisthesis exists.  Medication will be injected after accurate placement is confirmed by an x-ray machine.  Most patients who have this will have some element of relief of their symptoms after this is done.  You will need a driver to return you home from the hospital.  There are no periods of restriction after this procedure.  There are little or no complications associated with this procedure.

Facet Block 

A facet block will be performed by your physician.  This is done both as a diagnostic and therapeutic test.  This means that it will not only possibly help you, but it will give your doctor valuable diagnostic information about your condition.  This will be done in the operating room as an outpatient.  You will not go to sleep, but you will have heavy I.V.  sedation.  The doctor will then place spinal needles in your back using an x-ray to guide him.  These will be placed in the small joints in your spine called facet joints.  A mixture of local anesthetic and corticosteroids such as prednisone will be used for the injection.  There are little to no complications associated with this procedure.  There are no restrictions on you after this procedure is performed, but you will need a driver to return you home.

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Last Updated: 10/4/03