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MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. These are powerful tests that use magnets, radio waves, and computers to take detailed pictures of the inside of your body. You can do an MRI on almost any area of the body. They help to show doctors the condition of your muscles, organs, and bones without creating any incisions. In terms of an MRI Lumbar spine scan, this looks at the lumbar section of your spine. This is the area where most back problems originate from. Let’s take a closer look at some things you might need to know about an MRI Lumbar scan including what they’re used for, what the process entails, and any associated risks.

MRI lumbar spine

Image courtesy of Storyblocks.

Why might you need an MRI Lumbar Spine Scan?

As mentioned above, doctors perform MRIs to get a better look at what is going on inside of your body. In terms of the spine, they are often used to diagnose or treat problems. MRI scans can help to diagnose pain related injuries and diseases. They can also diagnose infections or other things that could be causing you pain or illness. Your doctor may request an MRI of the lumbar spine if you are experiencing back pain or some type of injury to your lower spine. They may also make requests in cases of birthing defects, multiple sclerosis, leg weakness, or bladder concerns. Such scans can also help to diagnose spinal cancer. Some spinal surgeries may also require MRI scans in order to develop a surgical plan.

What does a MRI Lumbar Spine Scan entail?

Before you have a scan, your doctor may ask you to do some preparation. The doctors first question to you should be “do you have a pacemaker?” If the answer is yes, the doctor may suggest another form of inspection. As mentioned above, MRI scans use magnets. These magnets can attract metals. You should let your doctor know if you have any metal implants within your body. These can include things like artificial heart valves, implants, plates, prosthetics, staples, stents, etc. You should also inform your doctor of any allergies you may have, in case they need to use a contrast dye that you may react to.

Once doctors have determined that an MRI is a safe method of inspection, they will ask you to remove all jewellery. They will also ask you to put on a hospital gown. From there, the procedure is pretty straightforward. If a contrast dye is being used, a nurse will insert it into your veins using a small tube. Technicians could ask you to wait up to an hour for the dye to work it’s way into your spine. From there, you will be asked to lay on a bench and technicians will move you into the MRI machine.

The MRI machine may cause anxiety for those with claustrophobia. If you are claustrophobic, be sure to let your physician know so they can prescribe you anti-anxiety medications before your testing. Once you are in the machine, a technician will control the movement of the bench. They will communicate with you through a microphone in the machine. During your testing you may receive headphones to help drown out any loud noises made by the machine. MRI lumbar spine scans can be uncomfortable for those who are claustrophobic or antsy, but they are completely pain free.

What are the risk associated with an MRI Lumbar Spine Scan?

There are few risks associated with MRI scans. Unlike their X-ray and CT scan counterparts, MRI’s do not pose the risk of radiation. In return, they are often thought to be a safer alternative for pregnant women and children. The scan does use radio waves and magnets, but to date there are no known risks associated with them. Side effects from MRI scans are extremely rare.

While MRI’s do not pose much risk to the average human, they do pose a risk to those with metal in their bodies. MRI scans make use of magnetics. In return, they can interrupt pacemakers, and can cause metals like pins or staples within the body to shift. As such, those with any type of metal implants will be directed to safer alternatives.

Another concern associated with MRI Lumbar spine scans is allergic reactions. While it is not used in all scans, some MRIs require the use of contrast dyes. These are dyes that get injected into the bloodstream in order to give a clearer image of blood vessels within the body. Some people may be allergic to the dyes. As such, it is important to inform your doctor of any and all allergies before having an MRI scan. Failure to do so could result in mild reactions or, in worst case scenario, anaphylactic death.

What should you expect after an MRI?

After an MRI you should be free to continue on with your day as per usual. The only exception to this rule is if you took sedatives beforehand. In this case, a technician will advise you to find a safe ride home. Depending on your doctor, results may be available immediately or can take up to a week to process. Once results are available, your doctor can call you to review them. From there, you can discuss your next steps.

If you have been referred for an MRI scan, rest assured that you have absolutely nothing to fear. Aside from those with metals or allergic reactions, MRIs are considered completely safe and painless. While the procedure may seem a little long, most technicians will provide you with music and headphones to listen to throughout the procedure. Follow the instructions of the technician as given through the speakers and you will do just fine!