An MRI is a
test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make
pictures of the
spine. In many cases an MRI gives different information
ultrasound, or a
CT scan. An MRI also may show
problems that cannot be seen with other imaging tests.
MRI, your body is placed inside a machine that contains a strong
magnet. Pictures from an MRI can be saved and
stored on a computer for further study. In some cases, a
contrast material may be used during the MRI to
show certain parts of the body more clearly.
The MRI can find changes in the spine and in other tissues. It also can find problems
such as infection or a tumor. MRI can look at the spine in the neck (cervical), upper back (thoracic), or lower back (lumbosacral). The
entire spine can be seen in one series of pictures to find a tumor. More
detailed pictures of one area may be taken. See
MRI pictures of the lumbar spine .
MRI may be used to check low
back problems. For more information, see:
Low Back Pain: Should I Have an MRI?
See pictures of a
standard MRI machine and an
open MRI machine .
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.
Low Back Pain: Should I Have an MRI?
Why It Is Done
An MRI of
the spine is done to:
- Find problems of the
spinal discs, such as a ruptured disc. The test may
also show if a disc is pressing on a nerve, causing symptoms such as
- Find areas of the spine where
the canal is abnormally narrowed (spinal stenosis) and may need surgery.
tumors affecting the bones or nerves of the spine. The
tumors that most commonly spread to the spine include those from
prostate, breast, or lung cancer.
areas of joint inflammation (arthritis) or bone loss found during an
X-ray test or a
- Find areas of the spine that do
not have good blood supply.
- Find an infection.
nerve damage caused by injury or disease, such as
- Check problems of the
spine that have been present since birth (congenital).
An MRI may be done using contrast material to see abnormal
tissue more clearly. The contrast material also may help tell the difference between
old surgical scars and a new disease or injury.
How To Prepare
Before your MRI test, tell your doctor
and the MRI technologist if you:
- Are allergic to any medicines. The contrast material used for MRI does not contain iodine. If you know that you are allergic to the contrast material used for the MRI, tell your doctor before having another test.
- Are or might be pregnant.
- Have any metal implanted in your body. This helps your doctor know if the test is safe for you. Tell your doctor if you have:
- Heart and blood vessel devices such as a coronary artery stent, a pacemaker, an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator), or a metal heart valve.
- Metal pins, clips, or metal parts in your body, including artificial limbs and dental work or braces.
- Any other implanted medical device, such as a medicine infusion pump or a cochlear implant.
- Cosmetic metal implants, such as in your ears, or tattooed eyeliner.
- Had recent surgery on a blood vessel. In some cases, you may not be able to have the MRI test.
- Have an intrauterine device (IUD) in place. An IUD may prevent you from having the MRI test done.
- Become very nervous in confined spaces. You need to lie very still inside the MRI magnet, so you may need medicine to help you relax. Or you may be able to have the test done with open MRI equipment. It is not as confining as standard MRI machines.
- Have any other health conditions, such as kidney problems or sickle cell anemia, that may prevent you from having an MRI using contrast material.
- Wear any medicine patches. The MRI may cause a burn at the patch site.
You may need to sign a consent form that says you
understand the risks of an MRI and agree to have the test done. Talk to your
doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks,
how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the
importance of this test, fill out the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).