X-Rays, MRIs, & CT Scans: What’s the Difference?

X-Rays, MRIs, & CT Scans: What’s the Difference?

Why does my back hurt? Do I need surgery? Is the throbbing in my neck serious? When you’re in pain, you want answers fast. When it comes to finding out what is going on inside your body, medical imaging can unveil a wealth of information that can help diagnose the condition that is causing you pain. The most common forms of medical imaging are X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography. Each of these non-invasive medical imaging methods are used to help physicians of all specialities see inside your body to diagnose your condition. 

Who Needs Medical Imaging?

Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential to getting to the bottom of what is causing your pain. Your diagnosis informs the path of treatment you need to find pain relief. 

When you see a doctor about pain, you will almost always begin with discussing your medical history, any accident or injury that may have led to your pain, and a physical examination which could include modality tests and other symptom related investigations. If these examinations are not enough to determine your diagnosis, or the treatment recommended based on these preliminary examinations isn’t effective, your physician may request medical imaging.  

Medical imaging has come a long way since its inception. It launched a transition from invasive exploratory procedures to non-invasive techniques. The results from medical imaging can diagnose conditions like fractures and herniated discs, etc., easier than old world techniques.

What is an X-Ray and How Does an X-Ray Work? 

X-rays are one of the most common and widely used medical imaging technologies. From dentists to orthopedic surgeons, these devices create pictures of your bones. 

X-rays send a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves through your body. The tissues and structures in your body absorb electromagnetic waves at different rates. Your bones absorb the greatest amount of radiation, making bones appear white on an x-ray image. Soft tissues absorb less radiation and appear gray. Air absorbs the least amount of radiation so lungs appear black. The amount of radiation from an x-ray is typically minimal. 

A common use for an x-ray is to assess bones for fractures and breaks. But they can also be used to detect cancer, lung conditions, and abnormal structures. 

What is an MRI and How Does an MRI Work? 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, more commonly referred to as MRI, is used by a wide range of medical specialities such as oncology and orthopedics. This technology can be used to detect and diagnose a wide range of conditions such as torn ligaments, disc tears, joint damage, and even cancer.

An MRI uses a combination of a magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to create detailed images of structures inside the body. A typical MRI machine is a large, tube-like structure that creates a magnetic field around the patient. Then radio waves are emitted from the machine in pulses. These radio waves are absorbed by protons and reverse the direction that they spin. When the field is turned off, the protons reverse their spin back to their original direction. This process, called precession, produces signals that the computer can interpret and form into an image. 

An MRI image can be detailed and detect miniscule structures in the body, making them ideal for diagnosing back, spine, and joint conditions.

What is a CT Scan and How Does a CT Scan Work? 

A CT Scan, formally called Computed Tomography, is a non-invasive medical imaging technology that allows doctors to internally examine areas of the body. 

CT Scans are more detailed than conventional x-ray images. This level of imaging is extremely valuable in locating a source of pain and diagnosing the cause. Many physician will request a CT Scan for a wide rage of reasons including: 

  • An MRI is not an option
  • The area of concern involves very small bones
  • Gauging bone mineral density
  • Emergency situations

Like an x-ray, CT Scans use radiation. But rather than a single beam of radiation in one direction, CT Scans use a motorized x-ray device that rotates around the patient, consistently shooting beams of radiation. They are transmitted to a computer, producing cross sectional images of the body from various angles. These images can be viewed in 2D, like a traditional x-ray, or formulated together for a 3D rendering of the inside of a body. 

The results of a CT Scan can provide your physician with clear, holistic imaging of your bones, organs, blood vessels, nerves, brain, and other soft tissues. 

Medical Imaging at Oasis Orthopedic & Spine

At Oasis Orthopedic & Spine, our experts use medical imaging like x-rays, CT Scans, and MRIs to diagnose, treat, and monitor spine and joint related conditions. These painless tests can even reduce or eliminate the need for exploratory or invasive procedures. Whether you have suffered a car accident, injury, or are experiencing degenerative pain, we can help you find the relief you deserve starting with an accurate diagnosis. Start yours now with our online pain assessment tool.