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What are the tests used to diagnose a spinal cord injury?

If a person arrives at an emergency room with a suspected spinal cord injury, medical professionals are extremely careful with the type of treatment they provide. During this time, doctors can often rule out this type of injury by testing movement and sensory function.

If a person experiences neck pain, has signs of weakness, or is not awake, an emergency test may be required to determine if a spinal cord injury exists. These types of tests include but are not always limited to:

-- X-rays. After trauma, such as a car accident, an x-ray is often used to determine if a spinal cord injury is present.

-- CT scan. This gives doctors a better look at any abnormalities of the spine.

-- MRI. In addition to spinal cord damage, this type of test can identify blood clots, herniated disks and other masses.

Several days after a spinal cord injury, once the swelling begins to lessen, it is possible for a doctor to conduct an exam to determine the extent of the injury. This can include things such as testing the ability to sense touch and tests for muscle strength.

A spinal cord injury is serious. For this reason, medical professionals treat it as such. While they don't want to jump the gun and make the wrong diagnosis, they do need to determine what happened as soon as possible.

If a person is injured in an accident, such as one involving two motor vehicles, there is the chance that he or she could suffer from some type of spinal cord, neck or back injury.

Source: Mayo Clinic, "Tests and diagnosis," accessed Aug. 13, 2015

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