MRI scan is widely used radiology examination. This imaging technique uses principles of magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to create detailed images of the body structures. Your doctor can use MRI examination to diagnose you or to see how well you have responded to treatment. MRI of the spine is used to detect diseases of your spinal chord, peripheral nerves, vertebrae and surrounding structures – ligaments and muscles.

The vertebral column, also known as the backbone or spine, is part of the axial skeleton containing vertebrae separated by intervertebral discs and surrounded by soft tissues, such as muscles, tendons and ligaments. The vertebral column houses the spinal canal, a cavity that encloses and protects the spinal cord, from which peripheral nerves come out.

 

Why may I need the MRI of the spine area?

You may need spine MRI due to the symptoms such as back pain, discomfort, numbness, tingling and weakness in your arms and legs or even urinary incontinency and others. The cause of these symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Fractures of the vertebrae
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Infection
  • Swelling or oedema of nerves
  • Bulging or herniated intervertebral disks
  • Tumors
  • Degenerative disorders

 

While the MRI scan is a very accurate imaging method to examine the spinal anatomy, it is not able to distinguish between painful and non-painful structures in the spine. It means that you may feel severe back pain, but an MRI scan will show a relatively normal picture of your spine, or in other cases, you may have no pain at all, but the MRI will reveal a structural abnormalities. Therefore, the findings on MRI of the spine must be correlated with the physical examination your doctor will perform.

 

What is your doctor looking at when checking your MRI of the spine?

  • Spinal alignment
  • Height, hydration, hernia, degeneration, bulges of intervertebral discs
  • Vertebral body configuration
  • Spinal canal size, signs of nerve compression or inflammation
  • Structural abnormalities

How is the MRI of the Spine performed?

During the examination, you will be positioned on the moveable table. To maintain the position and to help you to lay still, straps and bolsters may be used. Based on the location of your symptoms, only a part of the spine may be imaged – the neck part, the chest spine or your lumbar area. If a contrast agent is needed to be used during your MRI examination, a doctor, nurse or radiologist will insert an intravenous catheter into a vein in your hand or arm. You can find more information about how does the MRI contrast agent work here.  

The MRI examination usually takes within 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the length of the spine scanned (only part of the spine or the entire length). In case your doctor decides the contrast agent is needed, more images may be created and it may take 15 to 20 minutes more to perform the MRI scan.

Read more about how to prepare for the MRI examination, and what are the possible risks of this imaging technique.

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