Understanding the Difference Between X-Rays, CT Scans, and MRIs

X-Rays, CT Scans, and MRIs in Beverly Hills, CA

Image tests are often recommended by Beverly Hills spine surgeons to determine the source of pain affecting various joints, nerves, vital organs, bones, and muscles in the body. X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are the most common diagnostic tests for this purpose. There are notable differences between each test patients should be aware of while seeking an accurate diagnosis.

X-Rays

The most common diagnostic test, x-rays are used in nearly all fields of medicine. For spine-related conditions, x-rays are especially useful for identifying joint and bone deformities and abnormalities. X-rays involve the use of a safe level of radiation absorbed by bones, which appear lighter on the film with surrounding areas darker. X-rays are primarily used to:

  • Determine the extent of suspected bone or joint damage
  • Identify the location of a fractured or broken bone
  • Rule out bone and joint fractures or abnormalities

CT Scans

Computed tomography (CT) scans generate a cross-sectional image of the body. While such scans involve the use of x-rays, computer technology is combined with the process to produce greater detail than what results from a standard x-ray. A rotating tube surrounds the patient to generate 3D images by capturing interior structures from multiple angles. CT scans can help:

  • Clarify the location and extent of abnormalities
  • Diagnose herniated discs and spinal tumors
  • Determine the extent of spinal stenosis
  • Identify possible spinal cord damage

MRIs

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is similar to a CT scan in that it also produces cross-sectional images of internal structures. Instead of radiation, electromagnetic waves are used to generate high-resolution images of both soft tissues and bones. Since powerful magnets are used, however, patients with metal implants are often unable to have an MRI. This type of image test is used to:

  • Inspect spine-related nerves and discs
  • Identify a previously overlooked source of pain
  • Conclusively confirm a suspected diagnosis

Determining the source of pain or discomfort, especially when it involves the back area, is oftentimes akin to assembling a puzzle. Each of these image tests provides an essential piece to that puzzle, with the primary goal of helping board-certified physicians and patients fine-tune treatment options and, ultimately, find meaningful relief.

If you have back or neck pain and would like to confirm the diagnosis or receive a second opinion, reach out to The Spine Institute Center today. In addition to providing an accurate diagnosis, the experienced spine specialists here can clearly explain possible treatment options, including lumbar or cervical artificial disc replacement and decompression spine surgery. For more information, call (310) 828-7757 and schedule an in-person consultation.