What to Expect During a Spine CT

The technologist begins by positioning you on the CT examination table, usually lying flat on your back or possibly on your stomach. Straps and pillows may be used to help you maintain the correct position and to hold still during the exam.

A scan of the spine also may be done after injecting contrast material into the spinal canal (usually well below the bottom of the spinal cord) during a lumbar puncture, also known as a myelogram. This will help to detect tumors or locate areas of inflammation or nerve compression.

The table will move quickly through the scanner to determine the correct starting position for the scans. Then, the table will move slowly through the machine as the CT scan is performed.

You may be asked to hold your breath during the scanning. Any motion, whether breathing or body movements, can affect the quality of the images.

When the examination is completed, you will be asked to wait until the technologist verifies that the images are of high enough quality for accurate interpretation.

Time Consideration

The CT scanning is usually completed within 30 minutes.

Other Factors

CT exams are generally painless, fast and easy. With helical CT, the amount of time that you need to lie still is reduced.

Though the scanning itself causes no pain, there may be some discomfort from having to remain still for several minutes.

When you enter the CT scanner, special lights may be used to ensure that you are properly positioned. With modern CT scanners, you will hear only slight buzzing, clicking and whirring sounds as the CT scanner revolves around you during the imaging process.

You will be alone in the exam room during the CT scan. However, the technologist will be able to see, hear and speak with you at all times.

If the patient is a child, a parent may be allowed in the room but will be required to wear a lead apron to prevent radiation exposure.