Lab Tests

What are they?

Lab tests involve gathering and analyzing samples of various body substances. Examples of lab tests include blood, sputum, stool, and urine tests.

Why are they done?

Lab tests can be used to find out what may be causing back or neck pain. Many times back and neck pain can be caused by problems that are not the result of a spine condition. But the actual problem is causing pain to show up in the back or neck. For example, lower back pain can sometimes be the result of kidney trouble or problems in the abdomen, such as an aortic aneurysm or stomach ulcers. Back and neck pain can also be caused by diseases which eventually spread to affect the spine, such as cancer or infection. The results of lab tests can help doctors determine what is causing problems and what treatments will be most effective.

How are they done?

The method of gathering and analyzing fluid samples depends on the type of test ordered by your doctor. If a blood sample is needed, a trained clinician will use a needle to draw the sample. Getting a sample of cells to check for infection may involve a throat culture. A cotton swab is wiped across the back of the throat, and the specimen is incubated in the lab. The patient supplies a sample of stool or urine using a sanitary container. Lab professionals take extra care to document information about the patient, the doctor, and the nature of the test. The samples are analyzed in the lab, and a report is written. Doctors compare your lab results to a "reference range," which is a range of scores recorded from testing a large number of people like you-people of the same sex and age.

What are the limitations?

Lab tests are not used to tell whether there is wear and tear degeneration of the spine or a problem such as a ruptured disc. Doctors must rely on your history, a physical examination, and radiology scans to look for these problems.

What are the risks?

Most lab tests have minimal risks associated with them.