What is an MRI of the spine?

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of the spine is a procedure that creates pictures of the spine and surrounding internal structures by using a powerful magnet, radio waves and a computer to capture the images on a screen. A radiologist can then examine the pictures and use them in evaluating and diagnosing problems in the spine.

Your doctor may order an MRI of the upper spine and neck (cervical MRI) if you experience an injury to that area or have severe neck or arm pain that does not get better after treatment and/or neck pain along with leg weakness, numbness or other symptoms.

Your doctor may order an MRI of your lower back (a lumbar MRI) if you have low back pain that does not get better after treatment; leg weakness, numbness or other symptoms that do not improve or that get worse; back pain with fever; back pain with bladder-control problems or an injury to your lower back. An MRI of your spine may also be an important tool in helping your doctor decide if you need spinal surgery (for a bulging or herniated disk, for example), help to plan the surgery if you do need it and then monitor how well your spine heals after surgery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.