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WHEN IS AN MRI OF THE SPINE INDICATED?
A Spine MRI may be ordered by your physician to get a more detailed look at the spinal cord, vertebral bodies, discs, ligaments, and larger nerves. MRI may help determine the reason for spine pain, injury after trauma, or to diagnose tumors. Sometimes a spine MRI is ordered for symptoms such as radiating nerve pain down the leg called sciatica. MRI may be used to evaluate neurologic conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis. A Spine MRI of the neck (cervical spine), mid-back (thoracic spine), or lower back (lumbar spine) can give a surgeon a more detailed map prior to anticipated surgery.
WHAT IS A SPINE MRI?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI for short) is an imaging technology that uses magnets and radio waves to produce detailed 3-D Imaging of the vertebrae, spinal cord, and associated anatomy. These signals are then converted to images for the radiologists to interpret. MRI is commonly performed to identify a reason for your symptoms. By diagnosing the issue, your clinicians can treat the problem.
HOW TO PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME:
You will be asked to complete the medical history of any medical conditions. Please tell the scheduler and the technologist if you have any metal in your body such as metal fragments from trauma or surgery that may be an issue for the “magnetic pull” of the MRI. Tell us if you have had any surgery anywhere on your body including your limbs, abdomen, brain, or heart. If you have any planted devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators, aneurysm clips, auditory hearing implants, neurotransmitters, internal wires or electrodes, implanted pumps or ports, surgical mesh, any coils, stents, or filters please tell your technologist before scheduling because an MRI may not be possible. Many cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators are not compatible with MRI. Some of the newer devices are so it is important to know from your surgeon and the manufacturer what kind you have. Some external body wear or design such as body or face/ makeup tattooing, permanent piercings may limit you from having the MRI. Current or prior metal workers may have small fragments in their eyes as an occupational hazard. You may be asked to have an x-ray prior to performing the MRI. Jewelry and piercings need to be taken out by you for your safety in the magnet. Please see our MRI SAFETY FORM for more information.
HOW IS AN MRI OF THE SPINE PERFORMED?
You will be lying on your back on a comfortable table that moves into and out of the MRI machine. The magnet makes a loud clunky sound so the technologists will fit you with comfortable headphones and you may choose to listen to music through the headphone that makes the magnet sound indistinct. Many patients actually find the exam soothing because of the music and may fall asleep. It is important not to move quickly or jerk during the exam because this may cause irregularities in the images from signals of the magnets moving.
If your physician wants to evaluate for a possible tumor, we may inject a contrast dye (called Gadolinium) into a vein in your arm. The contrast is taken up differently in normal tissues versus tumors. It is important to tell the scheduler AND the MRI technologist if you have ever had an allergic reaction to a contrast agent previously. The dye used in MRI is different from that used in a CT exam. For most people, this is not an issue.
The MRI imaging may take 25 to 40 minutes depending on whether contrast dye needs to be administered or whether special imaging sequences are needed. The complexity of spinal imaging may affect the time needed to perform the imaging scan.
HOW DO I OBTAIN MY RESULTS?
Hundreds of MRI images in various sequences will be produced for each MRI study that needs to be interpreted. Therefore, the results will not be immediately available. An MRI specialist or the patient navigator will call you regarding your results once the interpretation is complete. We will also send a copy of your report to your ordering clinician and they will discuss any further action recommended based on your imaging results.
If you have any prior examinations elsewhere, please let us know the location so that we can obtain these for faster comparison. The images from many centers can be transferred to The Women’s Imaging Center quickly. You might have to sign a release form so that we may request this transfer.