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Neuro Library
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Spine Diagnosis

What causes back pain?

In general, most patients experience back pain that is temporary and will heal with time. The majority of low back pain is due to muscle strain and approximately 90% of patients will feel relief without the need for surgical intervention. Patients who experience pain in their arms or legs for an extended period of time should seek immediate medical attention.

How is the cause of back pain determined?

There are several diagnostic techniques used to determine the root cause of back pain.

X-rays are the most common imaging technique. They are usually the first step in achieving a complete diagnosis. Based on the results from the X-ray, a treatment plan will be developed, or more extensive imaging techniques may be used.

These include: Computerized Tomography (CT) scans which take cross-sectional views of the spine and its bony components; CT with myelogram, which shows the bony structure and the associated nerve roots; and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which provides a highly detailed picture of the spine.

Other diagnostic tools may also be used to assess the health of the nerves present in the cervical (neck), thoracic (chest) or lumbar (lower back) areas of the spine if damage is suspected.

A test that studies the relay of body sensations to your brain and how the brain receives those sensations (called somatosensory evoked potentials, or SSEP) may be recorded to assess the speed at which the nerves are conducting electrical signals along the spinal cord.

If the pathway is compromised the signals will travel slower than normal. Electromyography (EMG) may also be done to assess the electrical activity of the nerve root. EMGs can help to determine if the pain caused by nerve degeneration, or nerve root compression.

The cervical, thoracic and lumbar sections of the spine.

What are the specific causes of back pain and when is surgery indicated?

For patients with chronic lower back pain, there are several possible causes. These may include disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, and isthmic spondylolisthesis in younger adults. In older adults causes may include; osteoarthritis, lumbar spinal stenosis or degenerative spondylolisthesis.

For patients with neck pain, causes may include cervical disc herniation, cervical stenosis, cervical degenerative disc disease and cervical osteoarthritis. Spinal trauma and tumors of the spine may also cause pain at any age.

After consultation with your surgeon, it may be determined that the best course of treatment is through surgical intervention. Surgeons at The Neuroscience Institute offer the most advanced surgical procedures to address each of these conditions.