How do you know if you have spinal stenosis? Even if you exhibit symptoms of spinal stenosis, it can still be hard to determine with a simple physical checkup. The problem is that there are other disorders and conditions that have the same symptoms as spinal stenosis, especially during the beginning stages. Older people are more likely to develop other degenerative disorders, which can further obfuscate a proper diagnosis.
A doctor will ask you several questions concerning your spinal problems, and may have you perform a simple physical test. At best, the doctor can only infer that it may be spinal stenosis. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, the doctor will need to run a scan on you. A few scans that may be done are:
- X-Rays – Though not as detailed as a CT scan or MRI scan, an X-ray will give a detailed image of the bone structure of the spine. It can identify other bone related problems, such as a fracture or osteophytes, which are bone spurs that grow in response to damaged and degenerated joint surfaces. Osteophytes are commonly found among elderly people and athletes suffering from sports injuries.
- CT scan – Computed topography is a more advanced type of scan. It can give detailed images of the bone structure along with soft tissue, so it is easier to distinguish spinal stenosis. However, it does not provide as much clarity when capturing the soft tissue. CT scans produce similar images to MRI machines, but the two have a lot of little differences, such as price, the length of the scan, image clarity, side effects and so on.
- MRI scan – This is the scan of choice. Though it does not capture the skeletal structure of the body, it produces very clear images of the internal soft tissue, including nerves and muscle. Using an MRI, it is easy to diagnose and pinpoint exactly where the spinal cord is being compressed.
Computed topography and MRI scans each have their own advantages and drawbacks. In this scenario, the clear choice for analyzing spinal stenosis are MRI scans. It can clearly show the nerves in the spine and where the source of the pain is.