This article was written to answer many of the most frequently asked questions on the subject of bone scans. If you have chronic back pain, a bone scan may be one of the scarier tests that you may undergo, but it is actually a fairly safe and relatively painless procedure.
First off, what is a bone scan?
Simply put it’s a study done to show problem spots on the spine. A radioactive chemical, sometimes called a “tracer”, is injected into the bloodstream. The chemical quickly attaches itself to sections of the bones that are actively making new bone. Images are taken of the skeleton, several hours after the shot.
How is a bone scan done?
An intravenous line (IV) goes in your arm or hand. The chemical tracer is injected into the bloodstream through the IV.
There is a waiting time of two to three hours, while the chemical attaches itself to any areas of bone that are undergoing quick changes. Generally, you are free to leave and come back after this time.
After that, you will be asked to lie or sit underneath a large “camera” that takes pictures of your skeleton. Because the chemical tracer is radioactive, it sends out radiation that can be captured by a unique camera. The camera is analogous to a Geiger counter” in that it uses film to capture the radioactivity. The process takes 30-90 minutes.
Why a bone scan?
When it is uncertain precisely where the problem is in the skeleton, a bone scan is very helpful. It offers the ability to isolate any problem areas by taking a picture of the whole skeleton. Concentrations of the chemical look like dark spots on the film. In an adult, this usually indicates there is a problem. The increased bone-making activity is an answer to the trouble. For example, bone cells will very rapidly start to make new bone to try to mend it, if there is a crack of the bone.
Once these areas are located on the bone scan, the physician may order other tests for exact information about your condition.
A bone scan can show problems such as fractures of the spine, infection, and bone tumors. It can also be used to resolve bone density and the bone-thinning condition of osteoporosis.
How risky is a bone scan?
The chemical is radioactive, but it disappears from the body very rapidly-within hours. Something injected into the bloodstream can always provoke an allergic response. Generally, an allergic reaction to the chemical is uncommon.
What are the limitations of a bone scan?
The bone scan does not show details of the bones or soft tissue. It simply shows how greatly the bone around an exact area is reacting to the problem.
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