Computed axial tomography (CT)

CT or CAT scans create cross-sectional images of the bony structures of the spine.  The CT scanner is a motorized table that moves the patient through a circular opening and an X-ray machine that rotates around the patient.  Computers attached to x-ray detectors produce a “slice” of the patients.  Multiple slices are generated to see the spine over a distance.  With a computer, the slices can form a three-dimensional model of the spine and the neural foramena.

Computed Tomography Scan

What is a CT scan?

CT scans uses xrays generated from multiple directions to form an image..  A computer is able to generate images that recreate a virtual slice through the body.  CT scanners use many x-rays to generate images.  The radiation exposure is much greater with this procedure.

Radiation exposure form CT scans for studies of the abdomen and pelvis are associated with an increased risk of developing cancer.  The amount of x-ray for a spine study is substantial.  Younger individuals are at greater risk that those who have CT scans later in life.  The bottom line is that CT scan should be used if it is the only test that can diagnose your problem.

How is a CT scan taken?

CT scans are taken while you lie flat on your back in the center of an open circular overhead structure that supports the scanning machine (gantry).  The machine revolves around you taking images from multiple directions.  The test is not uncomfortable other than the discomfort associated with lying still for 20 to 40 minutes.