If you've had, or are scheduled to have, an MRI to evaluate a herniated disc, you may benefit from some background information on the test. After an initial physical and neurological examination and medical history to evaluate symptoms of back pain, your doctor may order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test. In some cases, your doctor may treat your back or leg pain for several weeks and order an MRI only if there is no improvement. If your physician believes that there is evidence of irritation to your spinal nerves, if you report pain, tingling sensations, loss of leg strength or if your reflexes are abnormally brisk or decreased, an MRI may be indicated.
Why is the test ordered?
MRI imaging is often chosen because it provides detailed views of your back, unavailable with an x-ray, without exposing you to radiation. An MRI may be ordered if your physician needs more information to confirm the diagnosis of a herniated disc. The test can help to rule out other conditions and to help locate the specific disc or discs that are the source of the problem. Pinpointing the source of your pain helps your doctor develop a specific, customized back pain treatment plan.
How it works
The MRI test is a noninvasive scan that uses radio waves, the magnetic field of the scanner and the body's natural magnetic properties to produce detailed images of your spine. MRI uses radio frequency pulses in a safe range, which don’t damage tissue when they pass through during the scan. The test may include the injection of a contrast agent or dye into your blood stream.
What it reveals
The resulting images will include clear views of the spine’s soft tissues, which are not visible in an x-ray. The MRI offers detailed views of the spinal discs, vertebrae, the spinal canal, back muscles, spinal nerves, tendons, ligaments and the marrow or softer inner part of the spinal bones. The MRI shows the spine in a 3-dimensional manner, allowing the doctor to study it in layers or cross-sectional views.
The MRI may make it easier to diagnose the root cause of your back pain, which may stem from one or more of these conditions:
- Herniated discs
- Past injuries
- Compression fractures
- Degenerative disc disease or arthritis
- Bony overgrowth
- Stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Or a less serious medical problem
The test can also help reveal the severity of your condition, although an MRI is not always needed for the proper diagnosis and treatment of a herniated disc.
If you have back pain, whether or not you've had an MRI, contact the Illinois Back Institute for a free back pain consultation. The Illinois Back Institute was founded by Dr. Jeff Winternheimer, D.C., the inventor of the innovative, proven-effective, all-natural herniated disc treatment called Functional Disc Regeneration™. To learn more, visit the Illinois Back Institute online.