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    What does a CT scan of the Cervical Spine show?

    Posted by Ravi Sohal on Sat, Dec 05, 2009

    ct scan cervical spineCT scans are frequently used to evaluate the bony structures of the cervical spine, also known as the upper neck. If you've injured your neck or have chronic neck pain, your doctor will probably first order an x-ray. After an x-ray, a CT scan may be needed to evaluate the bones and soft tissue structures of the cervical spine in more detail. On your doctor's order for the CT scan you might see:

    "r/o disc disease" -  this refers to the discs that act as shock absorbers between the vertebral bodies of the spine. They can be injured or "flatten" over time and bulge out and press on nerve roots. The CT scan can detect these narrowings.

    "r/o stenosis" - this refers to narrowing of the spinal canal and openings for the nerve roots. Bulging discs and other degenerative changes like osteophytes of the spine can narrow the spinal canal, causing neck pain or weakness. CT scans are very good at looking for osteophytes which are bony outgrowths from the spine.

    "r/o fracture" - CT scans can pick up fractures of the cervical spine and look for subtle alignment changes. Alignment changes can be due to injuries to the stabilizing ligaments of the spine or related to long term degenerative disc disease.

    (FYI - "r/o" is short for "rule out")

    A CT scan of the cervical spine will evaluate:


    A cervical spine CT scan will include the cervical vertebral bodies, lamina, facets, spinous process and parts of the upper thoracic spine and lower skull. The cervical spine CT scan can detect bone fractures, tumors, infection and evaluate post-surgical changes. An CT scan can also determine the extent of degenerative changes (arthritis) and be used for pre-operative planning for spinal fusion.


    Cervical spine CT scans are can evaluate  the discs between your vertebral bodies. A cervical spine CT scan can detect disc flattening, bulges, herniations, and infection (aka discitis).

    Spinal Canal and Neural Foramina

    Spinal nerves arise from spinal cord and leave the spinal canal through holes called the neural foramina. The canal and these exit points can be blocked and cause neck, shoulder, arm, hand pain or weakness.

    Cerebellum and Brain Stem

    Parts of the lower brain including the cerebellum are seen. Some cerebellar conditions such as Chiari malformations can present with neck pain. The brain stem is continuous with the upper cervical spinal cord though usually not a cause of issues with the cervical spine. 

    Soft Tissues

    This refers to the muscles and tissues around your cervical spine. The cervical spine CT scan can detect infections, fluid collections and tumors of these structures.

    Your Cervical Spine CT Scan

    A cervical spine CT generally takes about 15 minutes or so to complete.  If you've had surgery or have a history of cancer, you may might have to have the test done with IV contrast.

    If you're insured, you may need to have your test authorized (approved) by your insurance company first. If you're uninsured  use our website to look up CT scan of the cervical spine scan costs, find a certified imaging center and buy your test with a credit card.

    Have you had a Cervical Spine CT scan? What was it like? Please leave your comments below.

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