Living with Chronic Pain

12 Diagnostic Tests for Chronic Pain Conditions

  1. Physical exam
    A physical exam is typically the first step in the diagnostic process. During a physical exam, a health care professional asks a series of questions and tests vital signs and range of motion. The health care provider notes any positions where pain is more noticeable or intense.
  2. Neurological exam
    A neurological exam is an in-depth physical exam that covers everything from reflexes, balance, coordination, muscle strength, and the ability to feel sensation.
  3. Mental health exam
    Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, often accompany chronic pain conditions. A mental health exam can determine if a mental health issue is present.
  4. Blood tests
    Blood tests can help identify a variety of chronic pain conditions, including specific types of arthritis. An infection, which can also cause a great deal of pain, can also be detected on a blood test.
  5. Bone scan (Bone scintigraphy)
    If pain is focused in a specific area of the back, a bone scan may be ordered. This is performed by injecting a radioactive solution into a blood vessel. The injected solution contains a special dye that is absorbed into troublesome areas. The dye illuminates these areas when the scan is being performed.
  6. X-rays
    An X-ray provides a clear picture of the bones.
  7. Computerized axial tomography (CT) scan
    A CT scan shows a more detailed image of the bones than an X-ray. It also shows tissue and nerves. The results of a CT scan help identify if pain is the result of a broken bone, a pinched nerve, or damaged tissue.
  8. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    An MRI uses strong magnetic fields and radiofrequency currents to create images of tissues, organs, bones and nerves. An MRI can provide a more detailed image of tissue and nerves.
  9. Myelogram
    A myelogram is an imaging procedure used to evaluate the spinal cord. This procedure is helpful in diagnosing disorders of the spine that cause myelopathy or spinal compression. Myelography involves the injection of contrast dye and the use of X-ray, CT or MRI scans to obtain images of the spine.
  10. Electromyography (EMG)
    An EMG tests the nerves. During the procedure, electrical signals are used to determine whether one of the nerve roots is the central cause of pain.
  11. Nerve conduction velocity (NCV)
    An NCV test is typically partnered with an EMG test. It helps detect nerve damage.
  12. Nerve block
    If neck or back pain is suspected to be nerve related, a nerve block may be ordered to see if the pain eases. This procedure involves the injection of a numbing agent into the suspected nerve. A nerve block is a form of both diagnosis and treatment.
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