Diagnosis

To diagnose spinal stenosis, your doctor may ask you about signs and symptoms, discuss your medical history, and conduct a physical examination. He or she may order several imaging tests to help pinpoint the cause of your signs and symptoms.

Imaging tests

These tests may include:

  • X-rays. An X-ray of your back can reveal bony changes, such as bone spurs that may be narrowing the space within the spinal canal. Each X-ray involves a small exposure to radiation.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to produce cross-sectional images of your spine. The test can detect damage to your disks and ligaments, as well as the presence of tumors. Most important, it can show where the nerves in the spinal cord are being pressured.
  • CT or CT myelogram. If you can't have an MRI, your doctor may recommend computerized tomography (CT), a test that combines X-ray images taken from many different angles to produce detailed, cross-sectional images of your body. In a CT myelogram, the CT scan is conducted after a contrast dye is injected. The dye outlines the spinal cord and nerves, and it can reveal herniated disks, bone spurs and tumors.