Older woman being checked by physiatrist

Why are There so many Different Tests to Diagnose Back Pain?

Back pain can result from a broad range of causes, from congenital defects to herniated discs, from spinal stenosis to kidney stones. While your symptoms — the type of pain you’re experiencing, its specific location, and when it occurs — provide helpful clues relative to its origin, our skilled doctors have numerous excellent diagnostic tools to determine its precise cause and pinpoint its exact location.

When you come to Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our goal is to resolve your back pain issue without surgery since our doctors are physiatrists (MDs who specialize in pain management and restoration of function). A significant part of our fine reputation is built on our expertise in diagnosis. Each of our diagnostic tests has a specific purpose and we have in-depth knowledge of which will be most helpful in your particular case, well aware that arriving at the correct diagnosis is essential to a positive outcome.

Accurate Diagnosis Requires the Process of Elimination

This is why it is critical that we take a comprehensive medical history and perform a physical examination on your initial visit. Otherwise, we might miss the underlying causes of your back pain. Many conditions may be ruled out by what our trained eyes and hands see and feel during a physical examination — irregular posture, lumps or nodules, dislocations, pain upon certain movements. 

Other conditions may be suspected as causative as a result of your medical history (e.g. birth defects, disease conditions, previous surgeries, family history, prior injuries). Blood tests may confirm or disprove possible reasons for back pain stemming from disorders such as inflammatory arthritis. 

Imaging tests may at times show unexpected causes. You may be surprised to learn, for example, that inflammatory bowel disease can be a cause of back pain. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, our diagnostic tests show more typical causes of back pain, like a herniated disc or osteoarthritis, problems that our team of physicians has an outstanding record of treating successfully.

Diagnostic Tests We Use to Discover Why Your Back Hurts

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, we investigate your back problem using traditional and innovative methods. Each test offers a different perspective on what is happening inside your body that may account for your back pain. In some cases, more than one test may be necessary.

  • X-rays show bones, but not soft tissue; they are invaluable in diagnosing broken bones, misalignment, or arthritic changes. 
  • MRI or CT scans generate images that reveal problems with bones, discs (the cushions between the vertebrae), muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments and blood vessels.
  • Discography, unlike an MRI or CT scan, is designed to focus attention not on an anatomical anomaly that may or may not be related to your back pain, but your actual sensations. In other words, this procedure involves tracing your pain response to a specific location. 
  • Electromyography (EMG) studies are used to assess nerve and muscle function by measuring electrical impulses between the two. EMG studies can demonstrate nerve compression caused by herniated disks or spinal stenosis (the narrowing of your spinal canal), or help to diagnose sciatica or systemic disorders like muscular dystrophy.
  • Facet Injections target the synovial joints between the vertebrae. Each injection contains an analgesic and a corticosteroid, the former to numb the joint, the latter to reduce inflammation. Our doctors will be able to tell if they have found the source of your pain if the facet injection provides you with welcome relief.
  • Bone scans are used to visualize compression fractures caused by osteoporosis or, more rarely, tumors of the spine.
  • Diagnostic Ultrasound uses sound waves to project images of soft tissue onto a monitor. The doctor moves a small probe (known as a transducer) across the targeted area of the body. Ultrasound can detect many kinds of soft tissue damage, including sprains, strains, tendons, or ligament damage.

Contact Us for the Right Diagnosis of Your Back Pain

Our experienced, highly trained doctors will decide which diagnostic tests are appropriate in your particular case. Once we administer them and discover the cause of your back pain, we will treat you efficiently and effectively. Our top priority is relieving your pain and restoring your usual level of enjoyment of life. Contact our team today.