Computed Tomography, or CT scan, combines x-rays with computer technology to create images of different bone and organ sections. Unlike standard x-rays which take a picture of the whole structure being examined, CT has the ability to image that same structure one “slice” at a time.
In standard x-rays, dense tissues like bones can block the view of the body parts behind them. In CT, the various slices clearly show both bone and underlying soft tissue. CT assists physicians in both diagnosis and detection of a variety of conditions at an early stage.
CT scanning can be used to obtain information about almost any body part. The amount of radiation used in CT exams is equivalent to that of standard x-ray procedures.
CT scanning is a non-invasive method of diagnosis for symptomatic patients with issues that require a view inside the body. It is a short, painless procedure and emits very low amounts of radiation.
When would I get a CT of the Spine?
A CT of the spine can be performed on the:
- cervical spine, the neck region consisting of seven bones, which are the C1-C7 vertebrae separated from one another by intervertebral discs acting as “shock absorbers” during activity, allowing the spine to move freely
- thoracic spine, the upper and middle part of the back made of 12 bones, which are T1-T12 vertebrae and is the only spinal region connected to the rib cage
- lumbar spine, the lower back consisting of five bones, which are the L1-L5 vertebrae connected in the back by facet joints, which allow for forward and backward extension, as well as twisting movements.
Often, the most frequent use of spinal CT is to detect or rule out spinal column damage in patients who have suffered a serious injury. CT of the spine is also performed to:
- assess spine fractures due to injury
- evaluate the spine before and after surgery
- help diagnose spinal pain
- assess for congenital anomalies of the spine or scoliosis
- detect various types of tumors in the vertebral column, including those that have spread there from another area of the body
- guide diagnostic procedures such as the biopsy of a suspicious area to detect cancer, or the removal of fluid from a localized infection.
What Will I Experience?
A dye that contains iodine (contrast material) is often injected into the blood (intravenously) during a CT scan.
The dye makes blood vessels and certain structures or organs inside the body more visible on the CT images. If an abdominal CT scan is performed, a contrast material is usually given by mouth (orally).
During a CT scan, the area being studied is positioned inside a ring or “gantry” that is part of the CT scanner. The ring can tilt and the x-ray scanning devices within it can rotate to obtain the views needed.
According to most people, the challenging part of a CT exam is from time to time the need to lie perfectly still for a longer period. However, the technologist will keep you informed as to when to be still and when you can relax and move around.
Also, contrast material may be determined to be appropriate in order to provide better results for the radiologist to review. When administered, the contrast may cause minor discomfort.
The time required will depend upon the type of scan. If oral contrast is required, about 45 to 60 minutes is needed for the contrast to move through your digestive tract. Actual scan times vary from a few seconds to several minutes.
If no oral contrast is required, the examination will take about 15 to 30 minutes, including the time for exam preparation and interview. In some cases, additional scanning is required as scans are tailored to suit individual diagnostic needs.