CT - Spine

Computed tomography (CT) of the spine is a diagnostic imaging test used to help diagnose spine abnormalities. CT scanning is fast, painless, non-invasive and accurate.

Computed tomography, more commonly known as a CT or CAT scan, is a diagnostic medical test that, like traditional x-rays, produces multiple images of the inside of the body. The “slices” generated during a CT scan are re-viewed on a computer monitor. 

Common uses of CT scanning of the spine

Using CT, the bony structure of the spinal column is clearly and accurately shown, as are the intervertebral discs and, to some degree, the spinal cord.  Other common uses include:

  • Evaluation of the spine before and after surgery.
  • In patients with narrowing (stenosis) of the spinal canal, vertebral fracture, infection or degenerative disease such as arthritis, CT of the spine may provide important information when performed alone or in addition to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Assess for developmental 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. Some tumors that arise elsewhere are first identified by finding deposits of malignant cells (metastases) in the vertebrae; prostate cancer is an example.
  • Guide diagnostic procedures such as the biopsy of a suspicious area to detect cancer, or the removal of fluid from a localized infection (abscess).

What will I experience during my scan?

CT exams are generally painless, fast and easy. With multi-detector CT, the amount of time that the patient needs to lie still for is reduced.
When you enter the CT scanner room, special light lines may be seen projected onto your body, and are used to ensure that you are properly positioned.
With modern CT scanners, you will hear only slight buzzing, clicking and whirring sounds as the CT scanner's internal parts, not usually visible to you, revolve around you during the imaging process.
You will be alone in the exam room during the CT scan, unless there are special circumstances. However, the radiographer will always be able to see, hear and speak with you through a built-in intercom system.
You will be alone in the examination room during the CT scan, unless due to specific circumstances you require someone present. However, the radiographer will always be able to see, hear and speak with you through a built-in intercom system.
Occasionally a contrast material is used via an intravenous line through your arm. You will feel a pin prick when the needle is inserted into your vein. You will likely have a warm, flushed sensation during the injection of the contrast material and a metallic taste in your mouth that lasts for at most a minute or two. You may experience a sensation like you have to urinate; however, this is actually a contrast effect and subsides quickly. In the majority of cases contrast is not required in this type of examination.
After a CT exam, if an intravenous line was used to inject contrast material through your vein, it will be removed and you can return to your normal activities.