Diagnosing Back Pain with a Lumbar Spine MRI

February 3, 2017 – 4 min read

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Diagnosing Back Pain with a Lumbar Spine MRI

Pain in the lower back, also known as the lumbar region, can make everything from sleep to work uncomfortable. A proper diagnosis is critical in helping you find back pain relief and improve your quality of life. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offered at American Health Imaging (AHI) can help provide the answers you need.

A low back MRI, also known as a lumbar spine MRI, creates detailed images of your spine and the soft tissue surrounding it, as well as bones and discs. These images come in slices, and they can be used to detect, diagnose and guide treatment for a number of issues.

Symptoms That Can Require a Low Back or Lumbar MRI

You may need a lumbar spine MRI if you are suffering from:

  • Back pain due to injuries or a herniated disc
  • Birth defects related to the lower back or lumbar spine
  • Difficulty walking
  • Fecal or urine incontinence
  • History of cancer or signs of cancer
  • Inability to urinate or defecate
  • Injury to the lower spine
  • Pinched nerve due to sciatica or spinal stenosis
  • Severe lower back pain, especially with children
  • Symptoms of infection, such as back pain accompanied by a fever
  • Symptoms of spinal or brain cancer
  • Trouble with balance
  • Weakness or tingling in your legs that doesn’t respond to treatment

Because low back pain is extremely common, if your only symptom is pain, your doctor may recommend exercise and pain medication. If the pain doesn’t get better within four to six weeks, ask your doctor if an MRI could uncover the root of your pain.

The MRI Process

Before your MRI, take care to follow any instructions given to you by your doctor. Also, let your doctor know if you have any metal in your body such as implants, and do not wear cosmetics. When you arrive for your scan, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown. You’ll also need to remove all jewelry and body piercings, because the magnets used in an MRI can attract metals.

When you get your MRI, which is an outpatient procedure, you will lie on a bench that goes into the MRI machine. It is important to remain as still as possible during your MRI scan. While you are inside the MRI machine, special equipment will capture images for your doctor to examine. Your doctor may order that your MRI use contrast dye to capture more detailed images. In that case, you’ll have an intravenous tube inserted before the procedure. The scan typically takes between 15 and 60 minutes.

Aside from a needle prick when the tube for the dye is inserted, the MRI process is absolutely pain-free. However, some patients aren’t comfortable with the enclosed quarters or the clicking, beeping or whirring sounds of the MRI machine. If you anticipate feeling uncomfortable, talk with your doctor about taking an anti-anxiety medication or to see if an open MRI would work.

After your low back MRI, you can go home or return to work before meeting with your physician about your results. However, if you have had a sedative or anti-anxiety medication, you may need someone to drive you home.

A radiologist will review and interpret your MRI exam when the images are available. Within 24 hours to a few days, your physician will have a thorough written report, as well as copies of the images for their own inspection.

Risks of Low Back MRI

MRIs use significantly less radiation than X-rays and do not use ionizing radiation. As a result, they are safe, even for children. To date, no adverse side effects have been reported due to the magnets or radio waves used in MRIs. Some people are allergic to the contrast dye, but medication can help to subdue or eliminate allergic reactions.

Contact AHI to Schedule Your Lumbar MRI

If your doctor orders an MRI for your back, contact AHI today. We offer the same high-quality scans using the newest and most up-to-date equipment and leading-edge processes at a cost that’s usually significantly lower than hospitals or clinics. With 30 centers located in four states, AHI is both convenient and affordable.

Use our cost calculator for an estimate of your MRI at AHI.