Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does not use radiation. Rather, magnetic and radio waves are used to create computer-generated images. In addition, MRI pictures scan multiple layers of the spine and show abnormalities of bones, nerves, and ligaments. Therefore, doctors use MRI to take images of a patient’s spine.
Why use an MRI?
The MRI shows the spine in very clear detail, including information about the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and discs. Also, the MRI will show a loss of water in the nucleus pulposus, which occurs in the earliest stage of disc degeneration. Furthermore, an MRI shows facet joint arthritis, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), or a herniated disc (protrusion or rupture of the intervertebral disc). Finally, the MRI test provides doctors with the ability to diagnose problems with the spine and the surrounding soft tissues.
How does an MRI take images of a patient?
Patients lie on a table that slides into a machine with a large, round tunnel. The machine’s scanner takes many pictures that are watched and monitored by a technician. The MRI scanner makes noise; so you might be offered headphones to listen to music while the scan takes place. While the scan takes place, the patient lays in a narrow tunnel, which may cause some patients to feel claustrophobic. The doctor may give the patient a mild sedative to make the experience more tolerable. Open MRI machines are sometimes more comfortable for patients who experience claustrophobia. However, the images are not as clear as the other types. The procedure takes approximately 30-60 minutes.
What are the limitations?
The MRI takes great pictures for the doctors, but X-rays and CT scans can also provide images if needed.
What are the risks?
There appear to be no known risks associated with exposure to the magnetic waves used during an MRI. These waves can cause problems if you have any metal objects in your body. For example, if you had any type of metal clips or implants used in a previous surgery, including a pacemaker, make sure to inform the technician. As a precaution, X-rays (before the MRI test) can verify there are no metal fragments in your eyes or head.
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.