Spinal disorders can cause a range of symptoms and/or findings on a physical exam. A patient's signs and symptoms depend on the type of disorder, its severity, and its location within the spine. Symptoms may include:

  • Sharp and/or dull pain of short- or long-term duration
  • Activity-related neck or back pain
  • Pain radiating into the arms and/or legs
  • Limited motion and poor posture
  • Pain during standing or walking
  • Abnormal sensations of the arms and/or legs, such as tingling or burning
  • Sensory loss or numbness in the arms and/or legs
  • Weakness in arms and/or legs
  • Unsteadiness, with poor balance
  • Lost hand dexterity or difficulty with fine-motor tasks, such as handwriting, buttoning shirts, etc.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel function
  • Impaired sexual function

People who experience any of these symptoms should seek a healthcare professional to determine their cause and discuss treatment options.


Spinal disorders may be diagnosed using a number of non-invasive techniques, including:

  • An interview with the patient to understand the history of the condition
  • Physical and neurological examinations
  • Imaging tests such as x-rays, CT scans, or magnetic resonance imaging

For more complex conditions, advanced diagnostic tools can be used, including:

  • Electrophysiological studies, such as electromyography, to determine how well the nerves function
  • Nuclear bone scans to diagnose spinal compression fractures
  • Myelography, which uses a dye injected into the spinal canal to better define on imaging studies the channel through which nerves pass through the spine
  • CT discography to help pinpoint the site of low back pain