If your doctor suspects you might have a bulging disc, an MRI is just one diagnostic tool he or she can use to confirm that you are suffering from this common condition. In addition to an MRI, your doctor will likely take your medical history, perform some movement tests, and interview you about your symptoms to develop a diagnosis.
An MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging test, offers visual confirmation of the bulging disc. During this procedure, the MRI machine takes two-dimensional “slice” images of your body, and these images can be integrated together to form three-dimensional models. An MRI can provide a detailed image of any part of the body, including the vertebrae, or bones, that make up the spinal column. It also shows the intervertebral discs in between the vertebrae. If a disc is “bulging,” it will have a distinct protrusion popping out of its normal space in between vertebrae. When a disc pops out like this, it can press on spinal nerve tissue, resulting in pain, tingling, numbness, and other symptoms. The MRI can also show spinal nerve tissue that has become inflamed or irritated by bulging disc material that is pressing, or pinching, the nerve tissue. MRI images are invaluable for assisting your doctor in locating the exact spot where your neck or back pain is originating so he can determine the best course of treatment.
Before you have an MRI it is important to know what is involved in this critical step of your bulging disc diagnosis:
- It is a noninvasive test that takes about 45 minutes.
- You will lie on your back on a table, which will be slowly maneuvered into a tube. If you are claustrophobic or anxious, a doctor may recommend an anti-anxiety medication.
- Powerful magnets will send invisible signals into your body. You may or may not feel mild heat.
- Magnetic signals are then picked up by radio waves. You may hear a tapping or thumping sound.
- Radio waves send imaging information to a scanner, which creates an image.
- Two-dimensional Images of various parts of your spinal canal are sent to a computer. Images can be reviewed on the computer screen and stored on discs.
- Some MRIs require that you drink a contrasting material, such as gadolinium, to help show more detail on the images.
- Pacemakers, plates, or other hardware in your body for other medical conditions can interfere with the imaging process and a technician will ask if you have any internal medical devices before your MRI.
If your doctor has detected a bulging disc with an MRI and has recommended traditional disc surgery, contact the Laser Spine Institute. We will review your MRI or your CT scan free of charge. You may be a candidate for our minimally invasive endoscopic procedures to treat your bulging disc or other neck or back condition. Read more by clicking on MRI Review.