Back Pain Information for Kids

Computed Tomography (CT Imaging or Scanning)

Computed Tomography
(Computed Tom-ah-graph-ee)

A CT Scan, also known as a CAT Scan, is an important tool your doctor uses to see the spine. A CT Scan is a diagnostic test (die-ag-noz-tick). This test is fast, simple, and painless. The machine resembles a large square with a ring in the middle (a square donut!).

scanning machine

Doctors use this test to get more information about the spine than they can get with a regular x-ray. Not only do CT Scans photograph fractured bones, but they also capture images of soft tissue (such as blood vessels) and intervertebral discs (such as cartilage). The pictures (called "images") appear as cross-sectional slices of your anatomy. Similar to slices of bread - no two slices are exactly the same!

ct scan

It is easy to get ready for the test. You need to remove any metal objects (like belts or jewelry) and change into a gown. Sometimes a "contrast agent" is used. This is a special dye that is injected into your bloodstream to brighten particular body parts and make them easier to see.

Next the technician will ask you to lie down on the CT scanning table. It is important that you are comfortable – ask for a blanket if the room feels cold. The technician controls the test from outside the scanning room. Throughout the test the technician can see you through large windows and can even talk to you on an intercom system!

The technician might ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds during the test. It is important that you lie as still as possible. During the test, you may hear the scanner rotating – this is normal. The table may move a bit to help the scanner capture an image at a different angle. The technician will tell you what to expect next so there are no surprises!

During the test, a computer collects all the data from the scanner. The density of each cross-sectional slice is calculated, and eventually the images are produced on film. These are given to a Radiologist, a special type of doctor, to look at. The Radiologist writes a report to the patient's doctor outlining what he or she finds.

Updated on: 02/01/10