MRI is a non-invasive diagnostic tool that uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed images of the inside of a body. Doctors can use them to examine a person’s lower spine or lower back and surrounding tissue.
The test itself is very safe because it does not use ionizing radiation, which can kill or damage cells, and you cannot feel the magnetic field or radio waves.
This article discusses how doctors use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), how to prepare for an MRI, and what happens during an MRI. We also discuss the risks of an MRI and when a person can expect to get the results of the scan.
What can an MRI diagnose?
An MRI can check spine alignments and tumors and explore different causes of back pain.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, low back pain is the fifth most common reason for outpatient visits to hospitals, clinics, or other health care facilities.
Medical professionals perform lumbar MRIs for a variety of reasons. If someone is experiencing low back pain, the doctor may recommend a lumbar MRI to help diagnose the source of the pain.
Your doctor may also order a lumbar MRI for a person who is
about to have back surgery.
In this case, the surgical team uses the results of lumbar MRI to plan the operation.
Lumbar MRI is a powerful diagnostic tool that physicians can use:
- checking spinal alignments
- detect abnormalities in the vertebrae or spinal cord
- evaluate any inflammation of the spinal cord or nerves
…to check for tumors in or around the spinal cord.
- to monitor damage to the spine after an injury
- monitoring the spine after an operation
- explore the different causes of back pain
Your doctor may order a lumbar MRI if you have any of the following symptoms
Sudden back pain that occurs along with a fever
- injury or trauma to the lower spine
- severe and persistent low-back pain
- disseminated sclerosis
- pain in the leg suggesting a herniated lumbar disc
- Bowel or bladder incontinence
How to prepare
Before having an MRI, a person can eat, drink, and take their medications as usual, unless their doctor has specified otherwise. However, it is important for a person to inform their doctor if they do:
has a metal implant, such as a pacemaker or a hip or knee replacement.
- you may be pregnant
- have a history of allergic reactions, important if the scan requires the use of a contrast dye
Metal objects can affect the safety and effectiveness of an MRI. Before the test begins, the MRI technician will ask you to remove any metal objects you are wearing, for example:
- body piercing
For an MRI, you will also need to remove your clothes and wear a hospital gown. The technician may also ask you to complete a medical questionnaire and sign a consent form.
In this case, the surgical team uses the results of the lumbar MRI to help plan the operation. Because an MRI involves lying in a windowless room for a long period of time, people who are claustrophobic may find the procedure uncomfortable or even frightening. In this case, your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or a sedative to help you relax during the scan.