How is a herniated disc diagnosed?

Your health care provider will begin an evaluation with a complete physical examination and medical history, including a review of your symptoms. He or she might perform a neurological exam to test your muscle reflexes, sensation, and muscle strength.

The health care provider might use certain other diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis and to better evaluate the site and extent of the herniation. These tests might include:

  • X-ray — X-rays use small doses of radiation to produce images of the body. An X-ray of the spine might be done to rule out other causes of the back or neck pain.
  • MRI or CT scan — Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans can show narrowing of the spinal canal caused by a herniation.
  • Myelogram — This is an injection of dye into the spinal canal followed by a CT scan. A myelogram can help pinpoint the size and location of the herniation.
  • EMG — An electromyelogram (EMG) involves placing small needles into various muscles and measuring electrical activity. The muscle's response, which indicates the degree of nerve activity, is measured. An EMG can help determine which nerve root or roots are being affected by the disk herniation.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/22/2014.

References

  • North American Spine Society. Herniated Cervical Disc Accessed 8/18/2014.
  • North American Spine Society. Herniated Lumbar Disc Accessed 8/18/2014.
  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Herniated Disk Accessed 8/18/2014.
  • Frohna WJ, Della-Giustina D. Chapter 276. Neck and Back Pain. In: Tintinalli JE, Stapczynski J, Ma O, Cline DM, Cydulka RK, Meckler GD, T. eds. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 7e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011. library.ccf.org Accessed 8/18/2014.

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