How Is a Spinal Cord Injury Diagnosed?

Though severe, a spinal cord injury is not always easily diagnosable. They share similar symptoms as brain injuries or simple whiplash. As such, a battery of tests are generally administered to diagnose a spinal cord injury. These include:

  • X-rays: These are used to see if there is any damage to the vertebrae, such as cracks or fractures.
  • Myelogram: This is similar to an x-ray. However, a special dye is injected into the spine that highlights nerves and other non-bone tissue elements can be seen, using a special x-ray called fluoroscopy.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: During a CT or “cat” scan, a computer takes a series of cross-sectional images to check for issues such as blood clots. Often, this will be done soon after a myelogram to take advantage of the dye still in the spine.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses strong magnets and radio waves to take a picture of the affected area. Often, these will be used to check for herniated disks and other issues, including swollen cartilage between the vertebrae.
  • Somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP) testing: Also called magnetic stimulation, SSEP is used to test how well the nerves themselves are operating. This test causes a nerve signal to be sent, which is tracked to make sure it can still pass through the spinal cord.