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A Quick Review of Common Test Options Your Doctor May Use in Diagnosing Pain

If you suffer from chronic pain and the cause is not easily identified, your pain specialist may recommend running diagnostic tests to determine if there is an injury or hidden condition at the root of the problem. Here’s a quick review of some common test options.

Blood Test

blood test can identify specific types of arthritis or an infection. These conditions can lead to chronic pain. A blood test also allows the doctor to check your liver and kidney functions.


Electromyography (EMG) involves testing your muscles to see if they are responding well to nerve stimulation.


An x-ray provides your doctor with a clear picture of your bones.

CT Scan

Computerized Tomography (CT) scan is a specialized type of x-ray. The patient lies down on a table which slides into a large circular opening. The x-ray tube rotates around the patient and a computer collects the results. These results are translated into images that look like a “slice” of the person.

The CT scan uses radiation to identify spinal abnormalities such as spinal fractures, disc herniation, and spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal. CT scanning is more rapid than an MRI, and provides better detail of the bones of your spine.

Bone Scan

bone scan can detect spinal problems such as osteoarthritis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, fractures, or infections which can all lead to chronic pain. This requires a very small amount of radioactive material to be injected into your bloodstream to be absorbed by your bones. More radioactive material will be absorbed by an area where there is abnormal activity—such as an inflammation. A scanner can detect and isolate these problem areas.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests don’t expose you to radiation; they acquire their images through the use of magnets. An MRI is non-invasive and provides visualization of the spinal soft tissue, ligaments, a herniated disc, bony infection of the spine or disc, a tumor, and spinal cord compression or damage. Note that you cannot have an MRI if you already have a cardiac pacemaker or certain types of aneurysm clips, for example.


To see if you have a spinal canal or spinal cord disorder, such as nerve compression that causes pain and weakness, a myelogram may be advised. In this test, a special dye is injected into the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and nerves. Then, an x-ray or a CT scan is performed. The resulting image provides a detailed anatomical picture of the spine, especially of the bones, that will help your doctor to identify any abnormalities.


Nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV) test will help your pain doctor evaluate your nerves and determine if there’s any damage. This test is usually performed together with an EMG test.

Nerve Block

If your doctor suspects that a certain nerve is damaged and that’s what is causing your pain, he or she may do a nerve block. This is a special type of injection that may help identify if the nerve is the source of pain.

We hope this quick review of common diagnostic tests helps you prepare for your next visit and enables you to better understand what to expect throughout the process.

If you’re experiencing chronic pain and need a pain management physician to provide an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis, we invite you to reach out to us below to get started…

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