Neck or Back CT

CT is an abbreviation of the diagnostic test known as “computed tomography.” Sometimes it is also called a “CAT” scan. CT produces an image of a “slice” through a body part by taking a large series of low-dose x-rays.

A computer then formats this information as a series of slices. If enough slices are obtained, the information can be reformatted as a three-dimensional image or as slices from different angles. CT is very good for imaging bone, but also gives a good view of most soft tissues. Often, CT is performed immediately after other diagnostic tests such as myelography and discography.

A neck or back CT is used to evaluate many types of spinal conditions. For trauma, a neck or back CT scan may be ordered immediately. Typically, though, a neck or back CT is not needed unless pain persists despite treatment with medication and physical therapy.


Before a Neck or Back CT

  • Let the technician know if you are pregnant or may be pregnant.
  • You will be asked to remove all metal objects and jewelry.

During a Neck or Back CT

  • Neck and back CTs are made with the patient lying on their back on a table that slides into a scanner.
  • You will be asked to remain still and hold your breath while the images are being made.
  • In some cases, the doctor may order neck or back CTs to be performed using a contrast material (dye) to make certain tissue easier to evaluate.
  • The procedure will usually take about 30 minutes. If a dye is used, it may take longer.

After a Neck or Back CT

  • You will leave the CT area and go home.
  • A radiologist will read the images and make a report.
  • You will have a follow-up appointment with your doctor after the neck or back CT to discuss the findings.
  • You may be told that the results of your neck or back CT will be sent to the doctor who ordered the test. This indicates that a report will be sent. If you are seeing a surgeon, they will need the actual images to give you the best information about your options. You will need to obtain these from the imaging center (either on disc or preferably on film) and be sure to bring them to your follow-up appointment. If you do not have your films, you may need to reschedule your follow-up appointment with the films to complete your evaluation.
myelography with ct scan