MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It is one of the best tools for evaluating your spine anatomy in detail and allows your surgeon to see the spinal cord and nerve passageways in detail (see Figure 3). An MRI machine has a large magnet embedded inside of it. You are placed onto a table which slide into the tube of the MRI machine. You may have straps or a face mask to keep your head or body in the appropriate position during the MRI. It’s absolutely critical to remain still for the entire MRI as motion tends to degrade the images. Once the magnet is on, the MRI machine sends and receives radio waves and a computer assembles the output into a detailed image of your spine. One of the downsides to an MRI scan is that it takes longer than most other scans, typically about 30 minutes or so. The plus side is the MRI scan has no radiation associated with it.
MRI’s can be helpful for diagnosing a wide variety of conditions. They are extremely helpful when trying to diagnosis spinal stenosis, herniated discs, spinal tumors, and any other condition causing compression of your spinal cord and nerves. However, as mentioned before the image quality can be affected by a variety of things, including movement during the MRI and/or metal implants in the area around the MRI. Not everyone can have an MRI, including most people with pacemakers, and so expect to fill out a detailed screening form prior to being able to schedule your MRI.