How is degenerative spinal disease diagnosed?

Luke Macyszyn, MD
If you have pain that spreads (or radiates) down your arms or legs, a doctor should evaluate you for degenerative spinal disease. Diagnosis of degenerative spinal disease involves a physical exam and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. An MRI can help diagnose the cause of your pain. It’s the best tool for diagnosing degenerative spinal disease because it allows doctors to assess both soft and bony tissue, and can reveal areas of nerve or spinal cord compression.

The type of degenerative spinal disease affects how it is diagnosed. Most diagnosis begins with a physical exam to evaluate the type and location of any pain, numbness, or weakness. An x-ray of the spine, followed by a CT or MRI scan, is used to pinpoint the location and type of damage. MRI scans are particularly useful diagnostic tools because they can show damage to disks or ligaments, the presence of a tumor, and whether there is pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. A CT myelogram, where contrast dye is injected into the spinal column, is useful for identifying herniated disks.

Continue Learning about Degenerative Spinal Disease

Degenerative Spinal Disease

Degenerative Spinal Disease

The term degenerative spinal disease does not refer to any one disorder of the spine, but is a general term that covers many types of disorders that cause wear and tear on the bones and tissues of the spine. This kind of spinal pr...

oblem is usually part of the normal aging process, but many people are more prone to spinal problems than others. Some common degenerative spine disorders are herniated disc (sometimes called slipped disc), a condition in which there is a bulge or a rupture of a disc that pushes against the spinal nerves. With the nerve compression comes pain and possibly numbness. Herniated disc can improve on their own, or you may need surgery. Spinal stenosis is another common back problem. This is a term that describes narrowing of the spinal canal and a build up of tissue that causes pain, stiffness and difficulty walking and moving around. See your doctor to determine the best treatment for your degenerative spine disease.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.