Uses radio waves, a magnetic field and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the spine and surrounding tissues that are clearer and more detailed than other imaging methods. The exam does not use ionizing radiation and may require an injection of a contrast material called gadolinium, which is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than iodinated contrast material.
MR imaging is performed to:
MRI examinations may be performed on outpatients or inpatients.
You will be positioned on the moveable examination table. Straps and bolsters may be used to help you stay still and maintain the correct position during imaging.
Devices that contain coils capable of sending and receiving radio waves may be placed around or adjacent to the area of the body being studied.
Depending on the location of symptoms, only part of the spine may be imaged. For example, the cervical (neck) portion, the thoracic (chest) spine or the lumbar (lower) spine. Intravenously injected contrast material may be used when looking for infection, tumors or recurrent disk issues after a surgery.
If a contrast material will be used in the MRI exam, a physician, nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) catheter, also known as an IV line, into a vein in your hand or arm. A saline solution may be used to inject the contrast material. The solution will drip through the IV to prevent blockage of the IV catheter until the contrast material is injected.
You will be placed into the magnet of the MRI unit and the radiologist and technologist will perform the examination while working at a computer outside of the room.
When the examination is complete, you may be asked to wait until the technologist or radiologist checks the images in case additional images are needed.
Your intravenous line will be removed.
MRI exams generally include multiple runs (sequences), some of which may last several minutes.
The entire examination is usually completed within 30 to 60 minutes depending on whether the entire length of the spine is scanned or only part of the spine is scanned. If contrast material is used, more images are needed after the injection which adds an additional 15 to 20 minutes to the total scan time.