What is a bone scan?

A bone scan is an imaging test that helps physicians locate and diagnose conditions existing in bones, including the spinal vertebrae. It is used with other diagnostic tools, such as physical exams, blood tests, MRIs or CT scans, to help determine the origin and nature of neck pain or back pain.

A bone scan can be used to help patients suffering from neck or back pain rule out causes such as cancer or a stress fracture. If you have been recommended for a bone scan by your doctor or specialist, learning more about exactly what is involved with this testing method can help you make a more confident treatment decision.

What steps are involved in a bone scan?

In preparation for a bone scan, the patient is injected with a low-level radioactive tracer formulated to seek bone material. It may take several hours for the tracer substance to spread through the body, during which a patient usually is free to move around. In some cases, they can even leave the facility where the test takes place. Once the tracer has had time to spread sufficiently, a camera uses gamma rays to take pictures that reveal how the tracer has settled in the bones.

The less tracer substance present in an area of bone, the darker that area appears on an image. This is known as a cold spot and could be caused by low blood flow or certain kinds of cancer. Areas with more tracer substance appear lighter on the radiographic image, which is similar to an X-ray. These brighter areas are known as hot spots and could be caused by a number of spinal conditions, including:

  • Spinal fracture
  • An infection, such as Paget’s disease
  • Inflammation caused by degenerative arthritis
  • A benign tumor
  • A malignant tumor

A bone scan is particularly useful in the early stages of diagnosing irregularities of the spine. In many cases, the next step in diagnosis will be an MRI or CT scan to get a more detailed look at the exact nature of the spinal issue.

Laser Spine Institute

Upon diagnosis, a spinal condition such as degenerative disc disease, cervical spinal stenosis or degenerative arthritis of the spine, many patients are able to find relief with conservative treatment options such as physical therapy or over-the-counter pain medication. Surgery may become an option if weeks or months of conservative treatment do not bring relief.

Laser Spine Institute performs minimally invasive spine surgery, which offers a shorter recovery time^ and less risk of complication than traditional open spine surgery. Contact our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants today for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a potential candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery.