Discovering the Root Cause of Back Pain With a CT Myelogram

November 22, 2021 – 5 min read

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Discovering the Root Cause of Back Pain With a CT Myelogram

Most people will experience back pain at some time in their lives. In many cases, it goes away as quickly as it arrives. But in other cases, people need treatment to alleviate the underlying problem and ease the pain. A CT myelogram performed at Touchstone Medical Imaging is one tool doctors can use to provide an accurate diagnosis.

The Problem of Back Pain

If you’ve experienced back pain, you’re not alone. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 8 in 10 Americans will experience some type of back pain during their lives. It’s a leading cause of both doctors’ visits and missed days of work.

Back pain can range in severity and can be either acute, occurring after an injury, or chronic, meaning it lingers for a while or recurs. When back pain is acute, it will often go away on its own or with basic at-home care, such as rest or the application of heat or ice.

Back pain that lingers for longer than three months is considered chronic. This type of back pain typically requires medical attention and some type of treatment, ranging from nonsurgical options to surgery.

Treating back pain can be tricky because it’s often difficult to determine the source of the problem. Back pain emanates from the spinal cord and surrounding area, which is filled with intricate parts, including bones, ligaments, discs, spinal nerves and the spinal cord itself. In order to treat back pain effectively, it’s important to identify the exact source of the pain.

Using CT Myelogram to Diagnose Back Pain

If you experience back pain, your doctor will perform a physical examination, taking special care to examine areas of your body where you’re feeling the most discomfort. This can help identify the general area that’s causing pain. Your doctor will use additional tools to make a conclusive diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan.

This may include blood work, a bone density test to check for osteoporosis or a lumbar puncture to remove and examine cerebrospinal fluid, the spinal fluid that surrounds the spinal canal.

Sometimes, an acute injury or other obvious cause isn’t to blame for back pain. In that case, or when the pain is recurrent or chronic, your doctor will likely order imaging scans to help define the source of the pain. Multiple types of imaging scans, including an X-ray, an MRI scan and a CT scan, can help your doctor to diagnose back pain. Each type of imaging highlights a specific component in the spine or back. An X-ray helps visualize the bones in the back, while an MRI scan creates detailed images of the soft tissues, including muscles, spinal nerves and the spinal disks. If an X-ray reveals a problem that’s bone-related, a CT scan can provide a three-dimensional look at the bony structures of the spine.

A CT myelogram provides your doctor with additional information to help diagnose and treat the source of back pain. This advanced type of imaging procedure uses computed tomography aided by the injection of a contrast dye. The dye appears on the images as it moves through the body. This allows your doctor to better visualize and evaluate the spinal cord, spinal nerves and the lining of the spine.

This tool is particularly helpful when diagnosing spinal stenosis or abnormalities of the spinal disks. Myelography is also used to capture images of the spine for people who cannot have an MRI due to having a pacemaker or other device implanted in the body that would be impacted by magnets in the MRI machine.

What to Expect During a CT Myelogram

If your doctor orders a CT myelogram, you’ll receive a specific set of instructions to follow prior to the scan. This may include instructions about fasting prior to the procedure, discontinuing or adjusting medications, wearing comfortable clothing that can be easily removed, and not wearing jewelry.

During the CT myelogram, you’ll lie down on a table. A technologist will use an anesthetic to numb an injection site on your spine. The contrast dye used in the imaging scan will then be injected into your spine. This process is typically not painful, though some people describe the injection as a slight pressure.

In some cases, your technologist will also collect samples of cerebrospinal fluid for further testing at the time of the injection.

After the dye is injected, your technologist will ask you to lie on either your side or your stomach. They will tilt the table to capture images of the spinal nerves and spinal cord. You’ll then move into a face-down position, where additional images will be captured.

A standard myelogram using X-rays takes between 30 minutes and an hour. A CT myelogram goes a step further, also capturing images via CT scan, and will take approximately 15 to 30 minutes longer. In total, this type of imaging scan will take up to an hour and a half to complete.

A fellowship trained, subspecialty radiologist will then review the images and report the findings to your doctor, who can use them to provide an accurate diagnosis and determine next steps in treating your back pain.

Following the CT myelogram, you will remain at our facility and under observation for up to three hours. During that time, you’ll drink liquids to help flush the contrast dye from your system. Continue getting plenty of fluids for the rest of the day.

You’ll want to have someone drive you home from your imaging scan. After arriving home, lie down with your head elevated and rest for the next 24 hours before resuming normal activity.

Convenient CT Myelogram Near You

If your doctor has recommended you undergo a CT myelogram, you can access that imaging scan and others close to home. Touchstone Medical Imaging has multiple locations with same- and next-day appointment options available to make it convenient for you to get an imaging scan.


With your doctor’s referral, find the closest Touchstone Medical Imaging center and request your appointment today.