What is a SPECT CT Scan?

A SPECT scan (single-photon emission computed tomography) is the technique of using nuclear medicine tomographic imaging techniques with gamma rays to provide detailed 3D images of the body.

A CT scan (computerised tomography) uses multiple x-rays, information from the x-ray beams is then processed by a computer program which determines the relative density of the tissues, creating detailed images of the body which are then processed into an image.

The SPECT CT scanner combines the framework of the CT scan with the functional information provided by nuclear medicine imaging (SPECT scan). The images from each scan are then fused together providing highly accurate anatomical detail in 3D, allowing medical specialists to more accurately pinpoint the exact location of any abnormality.

How It Works

Patients are administered a small dose of radioactive medication, this is usually via an intravenous injection into the blood stream of a radioactive tracer (a gamma emitting radioisotope). The radioactive tracers are detected by a nuclear gamma camera, these specialist cameras rotate 360°C around the patient, allowing for the reconstruction of 3D images.

SPECT CT in the UK

SPECT CT scanning is rarely used in practice in the UK, in the investigation of spinal pain. It is however, used in many other countries, and perhaps the helpfulness of these scans will become recognised here in the near future. Due to the highly detailed information provided, these scans help eliminate the guesswork out of diagnosing inflammatory causes of spinal pain.

As this is an expensive scan, it is not often available in the public environment owing to modern day funding issues; however, these scans are invaluable for precise diagnosis and subsequent treatment of spinal pain.

Indications for SPECT CT Scan

There are numerous indications where a SPECT CT scan can be useful in providing an accurate diagnosis, as it essentially enables a detailed analysis of internal organs, bone structures and tissue.

In the case of spinal pain, hidden bone fractures, growths, lesions and other abnormalities such as tumours are easily identifiable on the 3D images.


It is an especially sensitive test of intervertebral disc, facet joint and sacro-iliac joint inflammation, illustrating precisely the areas of spinal inflammation. Invaluable information when deciding on the best possible plan of treatment for the patient.

The SPECT CT scan is predictive of the response to steroid injections; the above image shows a SPECT CT scan with an inflamed cervical facet joint. Targeting this joint alone with steroid injection and radiofrequency denervation will give excellent long term pain relief if the joint is the cause of low back pain. If the low back pain continues afterwards then the procedure has more than likely excluded the joint as a cause of pain.

How I Can Help

There is no need to suffer with debilitating pain; help is at hand! If you are suffering with pain and it will not go away despite the passage of time and using simple pain relieving medications, physiotherapy etc., then I can see you for a comprehensive evaluation of your problem.

Sometimes I alone cannot help you and I work closely with colleagues – surgeons, physiotherapists and psychologists which is important in such care – the multidisciplinary team.

Email enquiries@painmanagement.org.uk or call us on 020 7060 5109 for an appointment. Leave a message if you get through to a voicemail and you will be called back.


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