How Diagnostic Tests Can Determine the Root Cause of Your Back Pain

We don’t have to tell you that back pain can limit your ability to move, work, and enjoy leisure activities, but figuring out why is a different story. 

Fortunately, diagnostic tests conducted by a qualified medical professional like triple board-certified physiatrist Stanley Mathew, MD, of American Rehabilitation Medicine in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, Iowa, can provide valuable insights into why you’re experiencing back pain and help determine an appropriate course of treatment.

Electromyogram (EMG)

The EMG gives us valuable insights into the root cause or causes of your back pain by recording your muscles’ electrical activity. 

During this procedure, Dr. Mathew inserts thin needles into your muscle tissue and attaches electrodes to your skin. The recorded signals from these needles and electrodes indicate your muscles’ health and whether they’re the potential cause. We typically recommend an EMG if you experience muscle weakness or numbness in your arms or legs that various conditions, including back pain, could cause.


Ultrasound uses sound waves to create detailed images of your bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other organs. 

During an ultrasound procedure, Dr. Mathew applies a handheld device called a transducer to your skin over the area he’s examining. The transducer sends sound waves into your body and receives echoes from internal structures as they bounce back to create a real-time image on a computer screen. We use ultrasound to diagnose various conditions, including muscle or ligament tears in the spine that may be causing your back pain.

Bone scans

Bone scans, also known as bone scintigraphy or radiopharmaceutical scans, locate and diagnose bone problems. 

Here, Dr. Mathew injects a tiny amount of radioactive material called a radiotracer into your bloodstream. The tracer travels to the bones and makes them visible on an imaging system, allowing Dr. Mathew to identify any abnormalities in your bones, such as fractures or tumors, that could be causing your back pain. We also use bone scans to detect scoliosis and arthritis.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 

MRI scans use a strong magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to create detailed images of your body’s internal structures. During this procedure, you relax inside a tube-like scanner, and the MRI machine produces pictures of your spine, discs, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and other areas, allowing Dr. Mathew to identify any abnormalities or issues that could be causing your back pain.

Blood tests

Believe it or not, a blood test can help us figure out what’s wrong with your back. We analyze your blood for abnormalities, inflammation, infection, autoimmune diseases, or other conditions that cause back pain. 

We also use them to check your hormone levels or diagnose anemia, a common cause of back pain in women; the presence of certain medications that may contribute to your back pain; and to rule out other diseases, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis.


X-rays, also known as radiographs, are time-tested imaging tests that detect changes or abnormalities in your bones and soft tissues. 

During an X-ray procedure, Dr. Mathew uses a special machine that emits a small amount of radiation to create detailed images of your spine, discs, nerves, and other structures. These images help us identify fractures, tumors, arthritis, and other conditions that could be causing your back pain. 

By combining X-rays with blood tests, ultrasound imaging, MRI scans, EMGs, and bone scans, Dr. Mathew can determine the cause of your back pain and immediately get you started on a pain-relieving treatment.

To find out which diagnostic test will get to the bottom of your back pain, contact us at American Rehabilitation Medicine online or by phone.

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