Exams and Tests for Spinal Fractures
If you've been in a car accident, had a serious fall, or injured your back some other way, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Even if you don't have pain, you may still have a spinal fracture.
The doctor will probably start with a physical examination. He or she will ask you questions about the pain (if you have any) and review details of the trauma (e.g., car accident) with you. You'll also discuss if you have any other symptoms that could be related to nerve damage. Most likely, the doctor will feel your spine and have you move in various ways. This is to test your range of motion—how well you can move—and he or she will note if any particular movements cause, increase, or decrease pain.
If the doctor suspects that you have nerve damage, he or she will probably do a neurological exam. During the neurological exam, your spine specialist will test your reflexes, muscle strength, other nerve changes, and pain spread. (That is—does your pain travel from your back and into other parts of your body?)
The best way to confirm that you have a spinal fracture is by having imaging tests. You may have the following tests done:
- X-ray: An x-ray clearly shows your bones and if you have any fractures.
- CT scan: This test shows bones in addition to the soft tissues, such as nerves. If the doctor thinks you might have neurological issues, you may need to have a CT scan to see what's pressing on the nerve and spinal cord. Another benefit of a CT scan is that it's possible to look at cross-sections of the spine. Also, the doctor can see the spine from more than one angle by using different views of the CT scan.
- MRI scan: An MRI shows soft tissues like discs and nerves. On an MRI, the doctor will also be able to see any intervertebral disc problems.
Using these tests, the doctor should be able to tell what type of fracture you have and how severe it is. With that information, the doctor will be able to develop a treatment plan for you.