What is a CT Scan of the Lumbar Spine?
CT (computed tomography) scan (also known as CAT scan) of the lumbar spine is a painless radiology exam. This is performed to examine the cause of pain in the lower back (lumbar spine) in a non-invasive manner.
The CT scan for the lumbar spine helps doctors in detecting inflammatory conditions, tumors, spinal damage, and evaluating other abnormalities in the lower back.
The lumbar spine CT scan may be done with or without using a contrast material (dye) that is either taken by mouth (orally) or injected into the veins. When the contrast material is used, the organs are seen more clearly in the scanned images.
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Who Should Get a CT Scan of the Lumbar Spine?
Your doctor may recommend a CT Scan of the lumbar spine if you have one or more of the following symptoms or ailments:
- Direct significant trauma or injury to the back
- Mild trauma in people who are less than 50 years old
- Lower back pain with fever
- Numbness or weakness in the legs
- Unexplained weight loss
- Birth defects of the spine
- Recent infection in the back
- Problems controlling the bladder
- Osteoporosis (causes bones to become weak and brittle)
- Prolonged steroid use
- History of cancer
What Is the Purpose of a CT Scan of the Lumbar Spine?
Your doctor may recommend a CT scan of the lumbar spine to:
- Diagnose lower back pain due to injuries following trauma, dislocation, or fracture
- Identify inflammation of the lower back
- Identify blood clots and infections in the spine
- Detect tumor or cancer in the spine
- Detect birth defects of the lumbar spine such as spina bifida (where a developing baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly)
- Detect diseases of the lower back such as:
- Herniated Disk (problem with a rubbery disc between the spinal bones)
- Spondylolysis (crack or stress fracture in one of the lower spine bones/vertebrae)
- Spondylolisthesis (a bone/vertebra slips forward onto the bone below it)
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis (narrowing of the open spaces in the lower spine)
- Diagnose Multiple Sclerosis disease (affects brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves in the eyes)
- Plan and prepare for spinal surgery
- Assess the effects of spinal surgery
Your doctor may also ask you to take the Thoracic Spine CT Scan (Mid-Back) to confirm diagnosis for abnormalities in the cervical spine. Your doctor may even recommend the Rheumatoid Arthritis Factor test to evaluate rheumatoid arthritis that causes stiffness, pain, and loss of mobility in various body parts. Depending on the results, your doctor will confirm diagnosis and plan your treatment.
How Is the CT Scan of the Lumbar Spine Performed?
- Before starting the CT scan of the lumbar spine, you will have to remove all the metal objects on your body, including eyeglasses, jewelry, hairpins, and dentures.
- A technologist will ask you to lie still on the CT scanner table, which will move slowly through a doughnut-shaped machine.
- During the scan, the technologist will ask you to hold your breath for 10 to 12 seconds at certain points. Make sure you don’t move during the scan as any movement can blur the images.
- An X-ray beam will move in a circle around your lower back and will take multiple images that will be displayed on a monitor.
In case, your doctor has asked you to take a lumbar spine CT scan with contrast, then a contrast dye will be injected into your vein shortly before the scan begins.
How Long Does a CT Scan of the Lumbar Spine Take?
A lumbar spine CT scan is usually completed within 10 to 15 minutes.
Is Radiation Involved in a CT Scan of the Lumbar Spine?
Yes. A CT scan is an imaging test that involves a small amount of radiation to show images of the organs, tissues, and bones of the lumbar spine.
Are There Any Risks in Taking a CT Scan of the Lumbar Spine?
- Risk for radiation exposure is low in a single CT scan. However, radiation’s effect and the risk for developing cancer due to radiation increases with every CT scan a person gets.
- People who have implants containing metal, such as implanted screws or pacemakers, may not get accurate CT scan results.
When Will I Receive My Results?
Once the CT scan of the lumbar spine is completed, you will receive your results within 3-5 business days in your LabFinder portal.
How Should I Prepare for a CT Scan of the Lumbar Spine?
Please refer to the simple preparation guidelines given below or consult with your doctor or radiology center where you are being treated. Do not forget to bring your LabFinder Order and Insurance Card to your appointment.