February 23, 2016 9:10 am

What is an MRI?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a machine that uses magnetic fields to produce an image of your body. MRI is particularly great at making images of the spine. MRI shows problems with nerve roots, discs, or the bones of your spine that may be causing your pain. MRI is not able to diagnose an issue on its own, however in most cases an MRI is necessary before determining the proper treatment options or back surgery of any kind.

Why would my doctor order an MRI scan?

  • Your back pain has persisted for several months, and the pain is severe enough to need surgery.
  • You’ve had leg pain for 4-6 weeks that is not getting better and may need an epidural injection.
  • You have severe numbness or weakness in your legs that make it hard to get around normally.
  • Your symptoms mean you could have an infection even a tumor (rare).
  • You have had back surgery, and your pain did not improve as expected.

What might prevent my doctor from ordering an MRI?

  • Your body has not had time to heal on its own.
  • You have a pacemaker.
  • You have metal in your body that is not safe for MRI.
  • You are claustrophobic or unable to stay still for long periods of time.

What is the contrast?

Contrast is a chemical that is injected into your veins that bring out some abnormalities on MRI. Since it goes into your vein, contrast requires an intravenous line (IV) is started before the MRI. If you’ve had surgery on your spine in the past, contrast helps differentiate scar from new disc herniation. Contrast is also good at showing tumors. In most cases contrast is not needed: if you’ve never had back surgery before, and your doctor is not worried about a tumor, you don’t need contrast with your MRI.

This video explains what to expect before, during and after you have an MRI: