CT Scan for Neck and Back For Personal Injuries

Accidents can cause serious damage to the neck and back which may require a CT scan for neck and back for personal injuries. Sometimes, these injuries might not be immediately apparent but later result in nagging neck and back pain. If you went to see your doctor with that kind of pain, a CT scan would most likely be ordered to assess the injuries. But why a CT scan? Here’s everything that you may need to know about CT scans as a diagnostic tool for neck and back pain after a car accident. 

personal injury patient undergoing CT scan
Personal injury victim undergoing CT scan after injury

What is a CT Scan?

As a Houston car accident lawyer, we have a lot of clients undergo different diagnostic studies. One of them is a CT scan, which stands for Computerized Tomography scan, is an advanced imaging diagnostic tool that detects bone, muscle, and tissue injuries that would otherwise not be seen on an X-ray. You may hear healthcare professionals call it a CAT scan. 

Its ability to show the inside of your body in great detail is the reason why it costs way more than a traditional X-ray. The CT scan is so detailed that it can reveal injuries even before you start to feel the symptoms. An MRI is the only imaging diagnostic tool that actually rivals CT scans in imaging some tissues. 

How do CT Scans Work?

The CT scan utilizes both X-rays and a computer in creating a picture of your internal organs, bones, and other tissues. A doctor can then use these images to identify the location of the injury that is causing your neck and back pain. 

But how exactly does the CT scan work?

A CT scan machine emits a narrow X-ray beam that circles the part of your body being evaluated. It takes a series of images of the target part at different angles. The computer utilizes these images in creating a cross-sectional picture. 

Typically, the cross-sectional picture is two-dimensional, and that is why you may hear your doctor talking about 2D scans. The series of images can also be used to create a 3D image of the part being assessed. Doctors and technologists term it as 3D reconstruction, which helps better visualize the injuries. These 3D images are surprisingly so realistic. Your doctor may request a 3D reconstruction of your vertebral column to identify the areas that were damaged during the motor vehicle accident.

So basically, the CT scan takes multiple X-rays of the part being evaluated at different angles, and a computer compiles these images to create a detailed picture of the inside of your body. 

What will be My Experience During the CT Scan Procedure?

You might be feeling a bit scared about the procedure. It’s understandable because what you have probably watched in movies might have made the mention of a CT scan by your doctor send chills down your spine. Lucky for you, it is nothing close to the ‘horrific experience’ you might have watched. Perhaps knowing what to expect can be of help to you. 

The CT scan procedure is generally painless as it is a non-invasive procedure. It is also fast and easy. You will spend around 30 minutes at most doing the procedure. If you are in good health, you will be in and out of the imaging center or hospital within no time. Expect to feel some slight discomfort during the periods where you are to remain still for several minutes during the imaging. In case a contrast is needed to help visualize the inside of your body, you will also have to put up with the prick of a needle.

The CT Scan Procedure

A radiology technologist performs the CT scan. You will be prepared for the procedure, including changing into a hospital gown in some cases. The technologist or nurse may administer medication under the direction of a doctor to help you relax if you are anxious, in pain, or have a hard time staying still. 

Next, you will lie on a table that slides into a large doughnut-shaped CT machine. You may see some special lights being projected onto your body. These lights are used to ensure you are correctly positioned. As the table you are lying on slowly moves through the scanner, the machine takes photos of your body at different angles, which are needed to create the full view. This action by the machine may result in some slightly buzzing, clicking, and whirring sounds. It’s the sound of the internal parts of the CT scan revolving around you as images are taken. These parts are not visible to you. 

You will be asked to stay still for several minutes when images are being taken. At times, you may be requested to hold your breath for a brief moment. Movement is not desirable as it causes blurring of the images. 

It will take about 30 minutes for the procedure to be completed. Upon completion, you are free to go back home. You might need to drink a lot of water to help clear the contrast if used in the procedure. 

Who Interprets the CT Scan Results?

A radiologist interprets the CT scan images. This individual is usually a doctor who has been specially trained in the supervision and interpretation of radiological exams. A radiologist will analyze the images and prepare an official report sent to the doctor who requested the CT scan. 

Sometimes, you may need follow-up CT scanning. Your doctor may find a potential abnormality that needs further evaluation. A special imaging technique may also be required to help visualize some injuries better. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of a CT Scan

Like any other diagnostic tool, CT scanning has both its pros and cons. You probably want to know about these merits and demerits before you agree to go into the CT scan machine. 

Advantages of a CT Scan

  • Fast and simple 
  • Painless, non-invasive, and accurate
  • Provides more detailed images than traditional X-rays
  • Can image soft tissues, bones, and blood vessels at the same time
  • Less sensitive to movement than the MRI
  • It can be performed even when you have implanted medical devices, unlike the MRI
  • Produces real-time images and hence can be used as a guidance in invasive procedures
  • It is cost-effective

Disadvantages of a CT Scan

  • Exposure to radiation may have long term impacts on some people
  • The use of contrast may be harmful in people with kidney disease
  • More costly than a traditional X-ray

Risks of CT Scan Use

car accident patient in CT scan machine
car accident patient in CT scan machine

You may be wondering how the CT scan impacts your health. As you can see from the disadvantages, the main concern is usually about the radiation and the contrast that may be used. 

It is no secret that CT scans expose you to radiation. In fact, one CT scan may be equivalent to as many as 300 to 400 X-rays. 

This ionizing radiation has been shown by research to lead to DNA damage that may result in cancer potentially. However, this risk is really low. Additionally, by the time your doctor orders a CT scan, the benefits outweigh the risk. 

Your risk increases with every CT scan you take, and therefore it is advisable to do it only when it is absolutely necessary, as explained by your doctor. The radiation may also impact the development of a baby in the womb. Therefore, inform your doctor in case you are pregnant. 

The use of contrast in CT scanning is generally safe. However, it may cause you some problems if you are allergic to the dye being used or have kidney issues. In form your doctor in case you have any allergies. A nurse or technologist may also monitor you for some time after the CT scan, where the contrast was used to ensure you don’t develop any issues. Also, let your doctor know if you have any underlying kidney problems, as the kidneys are responsible for eliminating the contrast from your body. 

Uses of CT Scan in Neck and Back Injuries

Your doctor or chiropractor may ask for a CT scan for one of the following reasons when they suspect neck and back injuries as the cause of the pain:

  • Detect spinal injuries 
  • Guide treatment procedures like a surgery
  • Monitor your treatment 

Symptoms of Neck and Back Injury After a Car Accident

Although neck and back pain is the most common symptom when you have neck and back injuries from a car accident, there are other symptoms too. You may want to look out for the following:

Immediate Symptoms

  • Inability to move fingers or toes
  • Tingling or burning sensations or numbness
  • Headache
  • Urine or bowel incontinence
  • Muscle spasms
  • Changes in sexual function 
  • Difficulty breathing

Delayed Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Weakness in hands or legs
  • Tingling sensation or numbness 
  • Nagging pain in neck or back

Types of Injuries to the Neck and Back after a Car Accident

Your neck or back pain may be due to one of the many injuries that are common in car accidents. That’s where a CT scan comes in to identify the injury so that your doctor can decide on the best way to manage it. Common injuries from car accidents that can cause neck and back pain include:

personal injury victim suffering whiplash
personal injury victim suffering whiplash


One of the leading causes of neck pain is whiplash. It is an injury to the neck caused by the forceful back and forth movement of your neck that is rapid. The name whiplash is because the force is like the cracking of a whip. Pain due to whiplash can be confined to the neck or radiate all the way down to your lower back. It can also vary from minor to severe.

Lumbar Spine Injuries

picture of area of back suffering pain

The most typical cause of lower back pain after a car accident is lumbar spine injuries. Your pain may range from uncomfortable to excruciating, depending on the severity of the injury. The major lumbar spine injuries include sprains, fractures, and sciatica.

Lumbar sprains result in pain in your lower back that may be difficult to pinpoint. It results from the strong and sudden force of an accident that damages muscles and surrounding tissues in your back. 

Fractures of the lumbar region may range from simple to complex. Complex ones will result in either partial or complete paralysis as the spine is affected. Minor ones may result in displacements that may compress nerves and result in lower back pain. 

Your doctor will order a CT scan after clinical evaluation to identify these lumbar injuries. 

Spinal Stenosis

Back injuries from car accidents, when left untreated, can result in spinal stenosis. It is the narrowing of the channel in your vertebra where the spinal cord passes. This narrowing compresses the spinal cord and also pinches your nerves. Consequently, you may develop pain in your neck or back. Tingling in your arms or legs, weakness, stiffness, or loss of bladder or bowel control are some other symptoms you may experience. 

Spinal stenosis is progressive, and therefore your symptoms will worsen over time. There may also be the development of new symptoms along the way. A CT scan can reveal this abnormality. 

Disc Herniation

Your vertebral column has spongy structures called vertebral discs that cushion your vertebra. It prevents them from jarring against each other. Think of it as some kind of shock absorber. When the shock is excessive, for instance, in a car accident, these discs can be compressed or knocked out of alignment. When it happens, it is referred to as disc herniation. 

Slipping or herniation of the discs can compress the nerves leaving your spinal cord that causes pain. CT scans can help reveal this injury. Your doctor may rely on 3D reconstruction images to identify the herniation or slipping. 

Thoracic Spine Injuries

If you are feeling pain in your middle or upper back, it is probably due to thoracic spine injuries. These injuries include fractures, sprains, and disc herniation. You will experience pain due to compression of nerves and inflammation of the soft tissues in the region. 


Your neck and back pain after a car accident could be due to several injuries. Doctors rely on CT scans to identify the injury, guide treatment procedures, and also monitor your progress as you get treated. The procedure is painless and fast, so you shouldn’t worry about what will happen. Have a quick recovery as you seek for a permanent solution to your pain. 

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