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Lumbosacral spine CT

Spinal CT; CT - lumbosacral spine; Low back pain - CT; LBP - CT

 

A lumbosacral spine CT is a computed tomography scan of the lower spine and surrounding tissues.

How the Test is Performed

 

You will be asked to lie on a narrow table that slides into the center of the CT scanner. You will need to lie on your back for this test.

Once inside the scanner, the machine's x-ray beam rotates around you.

Small detectors inside the scanner measure the amount of x-rays that make it through the part of the body being studied. A computer takes this information and uses it to create a number of images, called slices. These images can be stored, viewed on a monitor, or printed on film. Three-dimensional models of organs can be created by stacking the individual slices together.

You must be still during the exam, because movement causes blurred images. You may be told to hold your breath for short periods.

In some cases, an iodine-based dye, called contrast, may be injected into your vein before images are taken. Contrast can highlight specific areas inside the body, which creates a clearer image.

In other cases, a CT of the lumbosacral spine is done after injecting contrast dye into the spinal canal during a lumbar puncture to further check for pressure on the nerves.

The scan usually lasts a few minutes.

 

How to Prepare for the Test

 

You should remove all jewelry or other metal objects before the test. This is because they may cause inaccurate and blurry images.

 

How the Test will Feel

 

The x-rays are painless. Some people may have discomfort from lying on the hard table.

Contrast may cause a slight burning sensation, a metallic taste in the mouth, and a warm flushing of the body. These sensations are normal and usually go away within a few seconds.

 

Why the Test is Performed

 

CT rapidly creates detailed pictures of the body. A CT of the lumbosacral spine can evaluate fractures and changes of the spine, such as those due to arthritis or deformities.

 

What Abnormal Results Mean

 

CT of the lumbosacral spine may reveal the following conditions or diseases:

  • Cyst
  • Herniated disk
  • Infection
  • Cancer that has spread to the spine
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteomalacia (softening of the bones)
  • Pinched nerve
  • Tumor
  • Vertebral fracture (broken spine bone)

 

Risks

 

The most common type of contrast given into a vein contains iodine. If a person with an iodine allergy is given this type of contrast, hives, itching, nausea, breathing difficulty, or other symptoms may occur.

If you have kidney problems, diabetes or are on kidney dialysis, talk to your health care provider before the test about your risks.

CT scans and other x-rays are strictly monitored and controlled to make sure they use the least amount of radiation. The risk associated with any individual scan is small. The risk increases when many more scans are performed.

In some cases, a CT scan may still be done if the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. For example, it can be more risky not to have the exam if your provider thinks you might have cancer.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their provider about the risk of CT scans to the baby. Radiation during pregnancy can affect the baby, and the dye used with CT scans can enter breast milk.

 

 

References

Shaw AS, Prokop M. Computed tomography. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 4.

Thomsen HS, Reimer P. Intravascular contrast media for radiography, CT, MRI, and ultrasound. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 2.

 
  • CT scan

    CT scan - illustration

    CT stands for computerized tomography. In this procedure, a thin X-ray beam is rotated around the area of the body to be visualized. Using very complicated mathematical processes called algorithms, the computer is able to generate a 3-D image of a section through the body. CT scans are very detailed and provide excellent information for the physician.

    CT scan

    illustration

  • Skeletal spine

    Skeletal spine - illustration

    The spine is divided into several sections. The cervical vertebrae make up the neck. The thoracic vertebrae comprise the chest section and have ribs attached. The lumbar vertebrae are the remaining vertebrae below the last thoracic bone and the top of the sacrum. The sacral vertebrae are caged within the bones of the pelvis, and the coccyx represents the terminal vertebrae or vestigial tail.

    Skeletal spine

    illustration

  • Vertebra, lumbar (low back)

    Vertebra, lumbar (low back) - illustration

    These are the five vertebra of the lower back. The last vertebra (on the upper left of the picture) attaches to the sacrum, and the top vertebra (on the right of the picture) attaches to the thoracic section of the back. The vertebra are broader and stronger than the other bones in the spine. This allows them to absorb the added pressure applied to the lower back, but this area remains a common site of injury. The vertebra are numbered from one to five and are labeled L1, L2, L3 etc. from the higher bones to the lower.

    Vertebra, lumbar (low back)

    illustration

  • Vertebra, thoracic (mid back)

    Vertebra, thoracic (mid back) - illustration

    These are twelve vertebra of the mid back. The last vertebra (on the left side of the picture) attaches to the lumbar (lower) spine, and the top vertebra (on the right) attaches to the cervical (neck) section of the back. The vertebra are broader and stronger than the cervical bones. This allows them to absorb the added pressure applied to the mid back, but they remain a common sight of injury. The vertebra are numbered from one to twelve and labeled T1, T2, T3, et cetera, from the upper most bones to the lowest.

    Vertebra, thoracic (mid back)

    illustration

  • Lumbar vertebrae

    Lumbar vertebrae - illustration

    There are five lumbar vertebrae located in the lower back. These vertebrae receive the most stress and are the weight-bearing portion of the back. The lumbar vertebrae allow movements such as flexion and extension, and some lateral flexion.

    Lumbar vertebrae

    illustration

    • CT scan

      CT scan - illustration

      CT stands for computerized tomography. In this procedure, a thin X-ray beam is rotated around the area of the body to be visualized. Using very complicated mathematical processes called algorithms, the computer is able to generate a 3-D image of a section through the body. CT scans are very detailed and provide excellent information for the physician.

      CT scan

      illustration

    • Skeletal spine

      Skeletal spine - illustration

      The spine is divided into several sections. The cervical vertebrae make up the neck. The thoracic vertebrae comprise the chest section and have ribs attached. The lumbar vertebrae are the remaining vertebrae below the last thoracic bone and the top of the sacrum. The sacral vertebrae are caged within the bones of the pelvis, and the coccyx represents the terminal vertebrae or vestigial tail.

      Skeletal spine

      illustration

    • Vertebra, lumbar (low back)

      Vertebra, lumbar (low back) - illustration

      These are the five vertebra of the lower back. The last vertebra (on the upper left of the picture) attaches to the sacrum, and the top vertebra (on the right of the picture) attaches to the thoracic section of the back. The vertebra are broader and stronger than the other bones in the spine. This allows them to absorb the added pressure applied to the lower back, but this area remains a common site of injury. The vertebra are numbered from one to five and are labeled L1, L2, L3 etc. from the higher bones to the lower.

      Vertebra, lumbar (low back)

      illustration

    • Vertebra, thoracic (mid back)

      Vertebra, thoracic (mid back) - illustration

      These are twelve vertebra of the mid back. The last vertebra (on the left side of the picture) attaches to the lumbar (lower) spine, and the top vertebra (on the right) attaches to the cervical (neck) section of the back. The vertebra are broader and stronger than the cervical bones. This allows them to absorb the added pressure applied to the mid back, but they remain a common sight of injury. The vertebra are numbered from one to twelve and labeled T1, T2, T3, et cetera, from the upper most bones to the lowest.

      Vertebra, thoracic (mid back)

      illustration

    • Lumbar vertebrae

      Lumbar vertebrae - illustration

      There are five lumbar vertebrae located in the lower back. These vertebrae receive the most stress and are the weight-bearing portion of the back. The lumbar vertebrae allow movements such as flexion and extension, and some lateral flexion.

      Lumbar vertebrae

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Self Care

       

        Tests for Lumbosacral spine CT

         

         

        Review Date: 9/22/2016

        Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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