MRI for Patients with Lower Back Pain: When It is Necessary : The MRI (Magnetic resonance Imaging) has revolutionized treatment for people who have lower back pain. It is generally considered to be the only imaging study of the spine that helps plan back pain treatment.
Often, doctors know what to look for on the MRI scan before it is performed.
Intermountain Medical Imaging services such as MRI scans are often used for pre-surgical planning like for decompression or a lumbar spinal fusion. Also, they are useful for ruling out infections or tumors, for differentiating scar tissue from a recurrent disc herniation in patients who have had back surgery, and ruling out the risk of injecting a steroid into a tumor or infection.
How MRIs Work
During an MRI, a magnet is rotated around a patient that alters the excitation level of the body’s hydrogen atoms. If the hydrogen atoms revert to their normal level of activity, they emit radiation that the scanner picks up. The MRI scan images demonstrate the difference between tissues with plenty of water and those that don’t have much.
Should Patients with Lower Back Pain Get an MRI?
Those who are suffering from lower back pain and or leg pain may be wondering if they must get an MRI scan to determine the possible cause of their pain. But, there are some factors to think about for an MRI scan, including limitations with the interpretation of findings and the time of when the scan must be done.
The abnormality that shows up on the scan may not be the cause of back pain. Studies reveal that many people in their thirties and forties have a lumbar disc herniation on their MRI scan and don’t experience any back pain. Thus, an MRI scan can’t be interpreted on its own. Whatever the scan shows must be well-correlated to the situation of the patient including their symptoms and neurological deficits on their physical examination. Also, the only time an MRI scan is immediately necessary is when the patient has progressive weakness in the legs because of nerve damage or bowel or bladder incontinence.
When an MRI is Needed to Diagnose Back Issues
Patients with suspected predominantly leg pain and a lumbar disc herniation must get MRI scans. Surgery for a lumbar disc herniation often carries some unwanted side effects and results in an early return to normal function for the patient. If the patient mainly experiences lower back pain, the only surgical treatment available is a lumbar spinal fusion, which can come with unwanted side effects and carries a longer healing time. Thus, physicians usually recommend waiting 3-6 months before having an MRI scan done. This will let them see if the pain will get better with nonsurgical treatments.
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