A degenerative disc disease diagnosis is often less than straightforward, mainly because the condition usually progresses very slowly and may produce several related issues, such as herniated discs and spinal narrowing. Therefore, if you experience sudden or persistent neck or back pain, it’s important to see a physician who can identify the cause, recommend appropriate treatment and help you recover.
Tests used to diagnose degenerative disc disease
As your physician works toward a degenerative disc disease diagnosis, he or she will likely ask you about your symptoms, lifestyle and any home remedies you may have tried. No specific tests are required for a degenerative disc disease diagnosis in every case. Instead, depending on your unique situation, your physician may perform or order a:
- Physical examination. Your physician may manipulate your spine to evaluate its alignment and curvature and check for muscle spasms. He or she may also observe your posture and test your range of motion.
- Neurological examination. Your physician may assess your muscle strength, reflexes and “pain spread” (whether your pain extends from your spine to other areas of your body).
- Imaging test. X-ray images can allow your physician to detect issues such as misaligned vertebrae, vertebral fractures, bone spurs, scoliosis and signs of spinal osteoarthritis, while CT and MRI scans can reveal soft tissue damage, such as bulging and herniated discs, as well as compressed spinal nerves.
- Electromyogram (EMG). If your physician suspects nerve damage, he or she may order an EMG to evaluate the electrical activity and response times of your spinal nerves.
- Bone scan. This nuclear imaging procedure can help your physician zero in on precise areas of inflammation and other issues in your spine. After a small amount of radioactive material is injected into a blood vessel, the substance will travel through your bloodstream and then be absorbed by your bones, especially in areas of abnormal activity. A scanner can then illuminate any “hot spots.”
- Discogram. If your physician suspects disc damage, he or she may recommend discography. This test involves the injection of dye into a spinal disc. If the disc is herniated or otherwise damaged, the dye may leak out, and any leakage will be visible in a subsequent imaging scan.
- Myelogram. If your physician suspects spinal nerve compression, he or she may recommend myelography. This test involves the injection of dye into the area surrounding the spinal cord and nerves, followed by an X-ray or CT scan to produce a detailed picture of the spine and illuminate compressed nerves.
Surgical treatment for degenerative disc disease
If you’ve received a degenerative disc disease diagnosis and are exploring your surgical treatment options, contactUSA Spine Care to request a no-cost MRI review.* We can determine if you are a candidate and also tell you about the benefits of our minimally invasive outpatient surgery.
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