A bone scan of the spine is a medical imaging test that uses a small amount of radioactive material. After insertion of the material, it uses a special camera to create pictures of the bones in the spine. The test is used to help detect and diagnose conditions such as osteoporosis, tumors, or infections in the spine. It can also be used to monitor the progress of certain treatments for these conditions.


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What is a Bone Scan?

Bone ScanA bone scan is a medical imaging test used to evaluate the condition of bones in the body. It involves the injection of a small amount of radioactive material, known as a radiotracer, into the bloodstream. This radiotracer accumulates in areas of the bones that are actively undergoing changes, such as those affected by injury, infection, or disease.

Why Conduct a Bone Scan?

Doctors recommend Bone Scans for various reasons, including:

  • Detecting bone abnormalities: Bone scans can help identify abnormalities or changes in bone structure — especially when X-rays do not identify small problems.  They are particularly useful in detecting conditions such as fractures, stress fractures, bone infections (osteomyelitis), and bone tumors.
  • Diagnosing bone metastases: Bone scans are commonly used to determine whether cancer has spread (metastasized) to the bones from another primary site. Cancer cells often accumulate in the bones, and a bone scan can reveal these areas of increased activity.
  • Assessing bone healing: After a bone injury or fracture, a bone scan can monitor the healing process. It can help determine if the bone heals properly or if there are any complications, such as delayed union or nonunion.
  • Evaluating bone diseases: Bone scans can aid in the diagnosis and management of various bone-related diseases, such as osteoporosis, Paget’s disease, and arthritis. They can provide information about the extent and severity of bone involvement.
  • Planning orthopedic procedures: Prior to certain orthopedic surgeries, bone scans can evaluate the bone quality.  In addition, the test can identify any abnormalities that could affect the surgical outcomes.

It’s important to note that bone scans are not the first-line diagnostic tool for all bone-related conditions. Depending on the specific situation, other imaging modalities like X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans may be preferred. The decision to conduct a bone scan is made by our doctors.  We base the decision on the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and the suspected condition.  In other words, a bone scan can show problems such as bone tumors, infection, and fractures of the spine. On the other hand, it can also determine bone density and the bone-thinning condition of osteoporosis.


Questions and Answers

What is a Bone Scan?

A bone scan involves injecting a small amount of a radioactive substance, known as a radiotracer, into the bloodstream. The radiotracer accumulates in areas of the bones that are undergoing changes, such as those affected by injury, infection, or disease. A technician will then photograph the bones using a special camera that detects the radiation emitted by the radiotracer, creating detailed images of the bones.

Why is a Bone Scan necessary?

A bone scan evaluates the condition of the bones and identifies abnormalities that X-rays do not always identify. It is commonly used to detect fractures, stress fractures, bone infections, and bone tumors. Additionally, bone scans can help in diagnosing and monitoring conditions like osteoporosis, Paget’s disease, and arthritis. Doctors also use Bone Scans to assess bone healing after an injury or fracture and to determine if cancer has spread to the bones from other parts of the body.

What should I expect from a Bone Scan?

During a bone scan, a small amount of the radiotracer is injected into a vein, typically in the arm. Patients will wait for a specific period to allow the radiotracer to circulate throughout their body. Once the waiting period is over, patients will lie on a table, and a special camera will take images of their bones. The process is painless, and patients will remain still during the scan to ensure clear images. The procedure usually takes about 1-2 hours to complete. After the scan, patients can resume their normal activities, and any traces of the radiotracer will naturally leave their bodies over time. It’s important to follow any specific instructions given by your doctor before and after the scan.

The Procedure

How is it done?

An intravenous line (IV) is inserted in your hand or arm. Then the chemical tracer infusion takes place by going into the bloodstream through the IV.  A waiting period of two to three hours will then take place, while the chemical takes effect.  Basically, it attaches to any areas of bone that are undergoing rapid changes. Usually, patients can leave and come back after this period.

Patients will then lie or sit underneath a large “camera” that takes pictures of their skeleton. Since the chemical tracer is radioactive, it sends out radiation that a special camera can identify. Moreover, the camera is similar to a “Geiger counter” in that it uses film to capture the radioactivity and the procedure takes 30-90 minutes.

Bone Scan Limitations?

The bone scan does not show details of the bones or soft tissue. It simply shows how much the bone around a specific area reacts to the problem.

Bone Scan Risks?

There is always the risk of an allergic reaction to anything injected into the bloodstream. In this case, an allergic reaction to the chemical does not usually occur. The radioactive chemical rapidly disappears within hours from the body.

Why Choose the Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute

Testing is crucial in diagnosing spine problems because the spine is a complex and delicate structure that plays a vital role in supporting the body and facilitating movement. Spine-related conditions and injuries can cause a wide range of symptoms, making it challenging to pinpoint the exact cause without proper testing. Diagnostic tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans provide detailed images of the spine, allowing healthcare professionals to assess the bones, discs, nerves, and soft tissues for any abnormalities or damage. However, in addition to the aforementioned scans, when appropriate our doctors at the Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute will conduct a Bone Scan.

With the Bone Scan test, which is not available to all practices, our doctors, with offices in Dallas, Plano, and Frisco, Texas, can obtain accurate and comprehensive information about the spine’s condition, enabling them to make an informed diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to the individual’s needs. Early and accurate diagnosis through testing is crucial for timely intervention, effective management, and improved outcomes for patients with spine problems.

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If you or a loved one suffers from spinal pain, you owe it to yourself to call Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute at 214-556-0555 to make an appointment.