Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI Scan) is a relatively new technology developed in State University of New York @ Brooklyn by Dr. Damadian. As compared to X-ray and CT scanning, there is no detectable radiation with the MRI. Although both soft tissue (including neural tissues) and bony tissue is seen by the MRI, the visualization of nerves and other soft tissues are superior. The MRI uses powerful magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce detailed images of the body.
MRI images are extremely detailed and so the results may be over read. Research studies have indicated that images from normal people sometimes showed abnormalities as well. This produces some confusion. Due to this fact, every physician must correlate the MRI findings with the clinical symptoms of the patient in order to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. This is the origin of common saying “treat the patient, not the images”.
During the exam, the patient lays inside a tunnel like structure while the computer collects the data to produce images. The process usually lasts about one hour. Some patients will experience anxiety from the tight space. Recently, the Open MRI was introduced avoiding this tight space. However, images produces by Open MRI systems are inferior to the traditional MRI scanners. If anxiety prevents you from obtaining the MRI scan, a referral to an Open MRI center can be made. During the exam you will be able to communicate with the technologist through an intercom system. You should avoid any movement during the examination since this will distort the images and will produce inferior results Because MRI uses a strong magnetic field, metallic objects may interfere with the scan. Contraindications to MRI scanning include: utilization of a pace maker, aneurysm clips in the brain, inner ear implants, metal fragments in the eye, implanted spinal cord stimulator.
If you are pregnant or think you may be, inform the technologist and your physician since a contract medial may be injected intravenously to enhance the images. If you have anemia, other allergic respiratory disorders, asthma, and other allergic respiratory disorders, inform the technologist and your physician.
The images obtained from the MRI will be read by a trained radiologist and a report will be produced that is forwarded to your physician. Radiologists are specifically trained to read and interpret these studies, however, most spine surgeons prefer to looks at the images in person to maximize the obtained information. These images are also invaluable in diagnosis and preparation for any surgical procedure.
The lower picture is an example of a spine with instability in the lower most segments. This can easily be visualized and diagnosed using MRI scanning.