Diagnosing spine pain with an MRI scan

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or an MRI scan, is a relatively new technology. Developed in the 1970s and first put into wide use in the 1980s, MRI technology uses powerful magnetic fields to produce computer images of internal body structures such as the organs, muscles, bones and nerves without surgery. MRI scans are noninvasive and, unlike X-rays or CT scans, are thought to have no potential to significantly damage the body.

While MRIs are considered one of the safest technologies to use to see inside the body, they are extremely expensive to perform. Therefore, physicians may use them only for specific purposes. Also, MRIs are inadvisable for patients with pacemakers or other implants due to the powerful magnetic field used in the test. This is because an electrical current may be created from this as well as heat within the metallic objects. Read on to learn how an MRI is used to diagnose disc pain as well as nerve disorders, and contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how our team can use your scan to relieve your condition.

Back pain diagnosis via MRI scan

Since MRI scans allow physicians to see and evaluate soft tissue, they are very useful in determining:

  • A narrowed spinal canal or spinal stenosis, which could lead to nerve compression
  • Disc height and hydration, which could indicate the likelihood of degenerative disc disease
  • Herniated and bulging discs
  • Alignment of the spine
  • Compressed nerves or sciatica
  • Spinal abnormalities
  • Post-surgical scarring or infection

MRI machines are essentially gigantic magnets that can encompass an entire human being. Most MRI machines are tube-like, although open-scan MRIs are gaining popularity since the closed, tube-shaped MRI machines can cause claustrophobia. The function of this diagnostic test is to measure the water content of different tissues, which is processed by a computer to make an image.

Learn more about how MRIs work

The human body is made up mostly of water molecules. Each water molecule has two hydrogen atoms attached to one oxygen atom. MRI machines generate powerful magnetic fields, which cause the magnetic charges in the body’s water molecules to align the proton spins. For example, all positive ends of the water molecule face up and all negative ends face down.

Next, the MRI machine emits a radio signal, which results in a different magnetic field as the protons absorb the magnetic field’s energy, causing the spins to flip. After the field is turned off, the protons then return to their normal spin, producing a radio signal that the MRI machine detects and creates into a computerized image.

The radio frequencies of the impulse given off by different molecules return to their spins at contrasting speeds. Therefore, the machine can differentiate between types of tissue present. At the end of the MRI, physicians may have access to thousands of detailed two-dimensional images of your body, which shows even the smallest abnormality. These narrow image slices of your body are saved on a computer where they can be used in many ways, such as the creation of three-dimensional views of the body.

If you are suffering from chronic neck or back pain and have received an MRI to determine the cause, severity of location of your condition, reach out to the spine care experts at Laser Spine Institute. We offer a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.