MRI Spines

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MRI of the Spine


     An MRI of the spine shows the anatomy of the vertebrae that make up the spine,as well as the disks, spinal cord and the spaces between the vertebrae through which nerves pass.

    Depending on the location of symptoms,only part of the spine may be imaged: the cervical (neck) portion, the thoracic (chest) spine or the lumbar (lower) spine.


MR imaging is performed to:

  • Assess the spinal anatomy.
  • visualize anatomical variations and diseased tissue in the spine.
  • help plan surgeries on the spine such as decompression of a pinched nerve or spinal fusion.
  • monitor changes in the spine after an operation, such as scarring or infection.
  • guide the injection of steroids to relieve spinal pain.
  • assess the disks - bulging, degenerated or herniated intervertebral disk : a frequent cause of severe lower back pain and sciatica.
  • evaluate compressed (or pinched) and inflamed nerves.
  • explore possible causes in patients with back pain (compression fracture for example).
  • image spinal infection or tumors that arise in, or have spread to, the spine.
  • assess children with daytime wetting and an inability to fully empty the bladder.

Spine MRI may reveal disorders such as:

  • Cervical disk disorders
  • Degenerative lesions of the spinal cord
  • Enlarged lymph nodes near the spine
  • Herniated disk
  • Lumbar disk disorders
  • Spinal cord compression
  • Syringomyelia
  • Tumors of the spine
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Myelomeningocele (children)

Benefits vs. risks of MRI of the spine

  • MRI is a noninvasive imaging technique that does not involve exposure to radiation.
  • MR images of the spine are clearer and more detailed than with other imaging methods. This detail makes MRI an invaluable tool in early diagnosis and evaluation of many spinal conditions, including tumors.
  • MRI has proven valuable in diagnosing a broad range of conditions, including but not limited to congenital conditions, chronic spinal cord diseases (such as multiple sclerosis), bone abnormalities (e.g., fracture) , disk conditions (e.g., herniated disk), vascular anomalies and tumors.
  • MRI enables the detection of abnormalities that might be obscured by bone with other imaging methods.
  • The contrast material used in MRI exams is less likely to produce an allergic reaction than the iodine-based materials used for conventional x-rays and CT scanning.
  • MRI demonstrates abnormalities, injuries and diseases in the spinal region that may not be visualized with other imaging methods.
  • MRI is very useful for evaluating spinal injuries It is especially helpful for diagnosing or ruling out acute compression of the spinal cord when clinical examination shows muscle weakness or paralysis.
  • MRI is able to detect subtle changes in the vertebral column that may be an early stage of infection or tumor. The procedure may be better than CT scanning for evaluating tumors, abscesses and other masses near the spinal cord.
  • The MRI examination poses almost no risk to the average patient when appropriate safety guidelines are followed. If sedation is used there are risks of excessive sedation. The technologist or nurse monitors your vital signs to minimize this risk.
  • Although the strong magnetic field is not harmful in itself, medical devices that contain metal may malfunction or cause problems during an MRI exam.
  • There is a very slight risk of an allergic reaction if contrast material is injected. Such reactions usually are mild and easily controlled by medication.
  • Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is currently a recognized, but rare, complication of MRI believed to be caused by the injection of high doses of MRI contrast material in patients with poor kidney function.
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