An MRI scan for a back pain diagnosis

An MRI scan is one type of test that can be used for diagnosing back pain. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. As the name suggests, this test uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce images of the spine.

During an MRI scan, radio waves produced by an external machine will be directed at your body. In response, your body will send out faint signals. The MRI machine will collect these waves and use them to produce a detailed image of your spine.

What to expect before, during and after an MRI scan

A typical MRI takes between 30 and 90 minutes. Minimal preparation is required. Unless your physician tells you otherwise, you will be able to eat, drink and take medications just as you would normally.

Many MRIs are performed without the use of contrast dye. However, this option can enhance the appearance of certain tissues and blood vessels. If your MRI is performed with the use of contrast dye, the dye will be injected into your veins shortly before you enter the MRI scanner.

For your MRI scan, you’ll be asked to lie on a table and remain as still as possible. The MRI scanner will rotate around you. You may hear intermittent sounds, although your technician can provide you with earplugs or headphones if you’d like. Once the scan is finished, you can leave the exam room and consult with your physician.

MRI images can reveal a variety of diagnoses

MRI scans can produce highly detailed images of the spine. The physician who interprets your MRI will be able to easily distinguish between your spinal discs, nerves, spinal cord and surrounding tissues. Your physician will also be able to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy tissue. As a result, MRI scans can be quite helpful when diagnosing conditions such as:

  • Herniated discs
  • Ruptured discs
  • Arthritis
  • Nerve damage
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spine tumors
  • Congenital spine abnormalities
  • Compression fractures

If your physician requires additional images for diagnosing your back pain after your MRI scan, he or she may recommend an X-ray, CT scan or bone scan. Collectively, these imaging tests can help your physician accurately diagnose the cause of your back pain and determine the best approach to treatment.