Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests are medical imaging tests that are performed when doctors suspect back pain conditions such as nerve root compression, herniated discs, and bulging discs. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) definition: A radiographic technique utilizing magnets and radio waves to visualize the internal structures of the human body. Overall, the most useful technique in the investigation of spinal abnormalities. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, also known as MRI is the most common diagnostic test to observe the structures of the back that does not involve ionizing X-Ray technology (ionizing radiation). Because the MRI test does not involve X-Ray technology and ionizing radiation, it is considered by many to be a safer test than those that do employ X-Ray technology (such as X-Rays, CT Scans, and Fluoroscopy). All of the tests described thus far are diagnostic tests that result in medical images that can be read by doctors on medical films or high definition computer screens. These medical imaging tests are designed to accurately show doctors the structures and functioning of the human body to confirm or rule out the presence of injury or musculoskeletal disease.

There are two aspects of MRI technology that distinguish it from X-Ray and CT Scans (Computed Tomography):
  1. MRI technology involves the use of powerful magnets, which align the atoms in your body in a certain way, in order to get high definition images of the structures of your back and musculoskeletal system. This technology contracts with X-Ray and CT Scans, which both use X-Ray energy to produce images of your body's internal structures. Because of this difference, MRI does not involve ionizing radiation, which may produce burns or cellular changes in the body. Ionizing radiation at high levels has the potential of causing cancer or cell destruction. (Two things to note on this subject. X-Rays and CT Scans are highly unlikely to cause permanent damage in the body, and the technicians and doctors who administer these tests take every possible precaution to minimize patient dose. Also, there people in the medical community who do oppose the MRI procedure for fear of health concerns, see http://trusted.md/blog/anji/2008/02/06/mri_side_effects#axzz1vO37iE15)

  2. Magnetic Resonance Imaging offers much more detail of soft tissues such as the ligaments, intervertebral discs, and joints of the spine than may be viewed in X-Rays. When you first present with back pain, either in the emergency room or your primary care physician's office, your doctor will first evaluate you for a serious medical condition. Once he or she has ruled out a serious medical condition, the doctor will either prescribe rest and temporary medications or order X-Rays to get multiple views of your spine. The X-ray images will get good views of your spine, in terms of its curvature, the health of the vertebral bones, and the amount of space between the vertebral bones. The space between the vertebral bones will look black on X-Ray images, and this blackness will be the areas where the discs are. Though you won't be able to see the discs directly, thickness of the black regions between the vertebral bones will provide some information about the health of the discs. A narrowing of these spaces may indicate conditions such as degenerative disc disease, bulging discs, and herniated discs.
But while X-Rays are excellent at producing clear images of bone tissue, muscle and soft tissue don't show up very well on medical images. Also, X-rays don't produce clear detail about the other joints of the spine, such as the facet joints (Zygapophyseal joints). Also, X-rays present very little clear imaging of the spinal nerves and nerve roots. For more accurate imaging of these structures, MRI imaging may be performed.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to take pictures of the organs and tissues of the musculoskeletal system. The MRI test is often done for back pain conditions where the doctor suspects soft tissue tears, such as tendon or ligament damage, torn cartilage, and compression of the nerves of the spine. In this diagnostic procedure, a person is placed inside a machine with a strong magnet, which produces a strong magnetic field. This magnetic field aligns the atoms in your body in a certain way that they can be photographed and printed onto hard copy films or digitized, where they can be read on computer screens.