Computed tomography (CT) scan for scoliosis

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Computed tomography (CT) scans use a series of x-rays to create a layered image of the spine. Find out how this technique is used for scoliosis patients.

Key points

  • A computerized tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays and a computer to take cross-sectional pictures of the body. This may be ordered by your teen's surgeon to see if there are any abnormalities in the bones (vertebrae) of their spine.
  • The CT scan is done by a team including a medical radiation technologist, radiologist, and nurse if needed.
  • CT scans usually take five to 30 minutes.

Your teen’s surgeon may order a computerized tomography (CT) scan of their spine to see if there are any abnormalities in the bones (vertebrae) of their spine.

What is a CT scan?

A CT scan uses X-rays and a computer to take cross-sectional pictures of the body. These pictures allow surgeons to see the structures inside the body at different levels. A CT can be done on any part of the body. The CT machine scans the spine in "slices” to produce pictures or images. Each image shows a different slice of the spine.

Some CT scans give the surgeon more information when they are done with a special liquid called a contrast fluid. This clear, colourless fluid is given through a small tube or needle called an intravenous (IV) line. The IV is inserted into a vein in the hand or arm. If the radiologist feels that your teen’s CT scan would be better with this contrast fluid, it will be given partway through the study.

Who performs a CT scan?

The CT scan is done by a team of people. A medical radiation technologist will take the pictures of your teen. A nurse may be available to help your teen throughout the scan and will give them sedation if needed.

A specialist called a radiologist will check your teen’s scan before you leave to make sure it is complete. The radiologist will also interpret your teen’s CT scan and provide a report to their surgeon.

How long does a CT scan take?

A CT scan usually takes five to 30 minutes. However, the length of time needed for your teen’s CT scan depends on many things

  • What part of your teen’s body is being scanned
  • Your teen’s physical size
  • How much cooperation your teen can give

Does a CT scan require sedation?

If your teen is able to lie perfectly still for an hour, then no special preparation is usually needed for the scans. However, some teens need sedation to help them lie still for the scans.

The type of sedation your teen needs depends on their age and medical condition. They may only need a sedative by mouth or they may need to receive sedation through a needle. On the other hand, they may need a general anaesthetic, in which case they would most likely receive it through a needle.

Before having any sedation or general anaesthetic, your teen will have to be careful about what they eat or drinks. The treatment team will tell your teen when they need to stop eating and drinking before the CT.

Last updated: June 1st 2008