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Lumbar spine

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Lumbar spine scans 101: spinal medical imaging & more

Lower back pain is one of the common chronic symptoms reported by Americans. Not only is it frustrating, but it can also be very debilitating. According to research, 80% of people will visit their doctor for lower back pain at some point in their lives.

Therefore, keeping this area of your body in mind and doing your best to take care of this area with preventive actions may help you in the long run. A doctor may use a lumbar spine scan can to identify injuries in your lower back. But, it can also be used as a preventive health measure to monitor the health of your lower back.

This can be great for those who are lifting or carrying heavy objects often or are constantly bending over–like landscapers.

What is the lumbar spine?

The lumbar spine consists of 5 vertebrae in the lower-mid region of the spine, known as L1 - L5. These vertebrae are thicker than those closer to the skull.

This is because they are essential in providing flexion, extension, and rotation of the torso. They also need to bear the weight of the upper torso. The lumbar spine also protects the cauda equina– a bundle of nerves that supports the lower trunk.

Problems in the lumbar spine can press on this nerve bundle, leading to complications of the bladder, bowel, and circulation, as well as leg pain.

Why do I need a lumbar spine scan?

Your doctor may order a lumbar spine scan if you have been experiencing pain symptoms in your lower back with no obvious cause–like having recently performed a physically laborious job.

Lumbar scans can also identify any issues with surrounding organs, such as the bowel or the bladder. Even if your back is in good health, a lumbar spine scan may be taken to assess the overall health of the spine.

A scan can be used as a preventive method for catching degeneration or bulging disks early, in order to implement therapies to slow their progression.

Common causes of lumbar pain

Lower back pain may result from injuries, blunt force trauma, or everyday activities. Common causes of lumbar pain include:

  • Repetitive movement.
  • Inflammation.
  • Infection.
  • Old age.
  • Degeneration of muscle tissue.
  • Pinched nerves.
  • Bulging or herniated disks.

Pain can sometimes go away on its own by giving the lower back time to rest and recover. However, persistent or worsening pain should be examined by a doctor.

Common lumbar pain diagnoses

The most common diagnosis for lumbar pain aside from muscle strain is general injury. However, other common diagnoses are also associated with lumbar spine pain.

  • Disk degeneration.
  • Herniated disk.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Spondylosis of the spine.
  • Spinal stenosis.
  • Fractures.
  • Tumors.

Medical imaging scans for lumbar spine pain

Imaging scans for the lumbar region can be used to check spine alignment, vertebrae, disks, and soft tissue damage. Different types of scans may be required depending on the type and severity of your symptoms.

CT scan of the lumbar spine

Lumbar spine X-ray

An X-ray uses concentrated radiation to get an internal view of your bones and tissues. An X-ray produces a black and white image that shows bones in the lumbar spine as white and the other tissue dark gray or black.

An X-ray in the lumbar spine is common for patients suffering from chronic back pain. The X-ray can identify any fractures or breaks in the spine that may be causing the disruptive symptoms. The procedure is very quick, normally taking only 15 minutes to complete.

The technician will have you lie flat on the imaging table and will cover your reproductive organs with a lead blanket to protect them from the small amounts of radiation from the X-rays.

The doctor, or technician, can then assess the images shortly after they are taken to diagnose any abnormalities. If none are found, you may need to undergo a CT or MRI scan to find the cause of your discomfort.

How long does a lumbar scan take?

A lumbar scan can take 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the scan. X-rays are typically the fastest and MRIs the lengthiest.

Find a lumbar spine medical imaging center near me

A lumbar spine scan can help identify the cause of pain or symptoms. It can also be used as a preventive health measure. If your doctor has recommended an imaging scan for your lumbar spine, you can explore reputable medical imaging scan centers near you using scan.com’s scan search tool.


  1. https://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/lumbar-spine
  2. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/abr84
  3. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/c/cauda-equina-syndrome.html
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/spinal-stenosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352961

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