Could an MRI Help with my Back Pain?

Back pain is one of the most common complaints doctors hear. Whether it is labor intensive employment, lack of exercise, age or just everyday strain, back pain can one of the most debilitating forms of pain. Not only does it affect your physical functionality but it becomes difficult to mentally distinguish from the pain, and the result is your family, friends, and associates begin to notice your change in behavior. If holistic methods like stretching and massage are no longer working on your back pain and it has begun to interfere into your everyday activities, perhaps it is time to speak to your doctor about searching for more strategized solutions for difficult back pain.

What is an MRI? How can it help with my back pain?

To begin your search for solutions, speak to your doctor about scheduling an MRI appointment. An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a tool that uses strong magnetic and radio waves to create an electronic image that can detail the tissues, organs and bones more efficiently than with X-rays or CT scans. Using MRI, doctors can take a deeper and more extensive look at problems such as joint and musculoskeletal disorders, especially within the back. An MRI machine contains a large magnet that excites the atoms around the body, then when exposed to radio waves, the original placement of the atoms is interpreted by computer technology. Radio waves transmit the signals atoms produce to a computer that processes an image of the examined area into thin slices. This type of imaging allows for doctors to examine deep into the tissues as well as revealing all parts of the spinal vertebrae, discs, and nerves.

Using an MRI, doctors can help patients find the causes of their pain such as:

  • herniated, disintegrated, or bulging intervertebral discs
  • compressed (pinched) or inflamed nerves
  • diseased spinal tissues
  • spinal bone abnormalities
  • nerve damage
  • possible infections
  • tumors
  • spinal cord diseases

Will an MRI hurt?

If your MRI examination requires the use of contrast fluid, a small IV will placed within the examined site and a cooling sensation may be felt around the area. Besides the contrast injection, some patients describe a slight feeling of claustrophobia going into the MRI machine. If this is a serious problem, speak to your doctor about the possibility of a mild sedative. A friend or family member is allowed inside the room at your request but will have to sign a written clearance beforehand. Besides these concerns, an MRI is completely painless and takes about 2-15 minutes depending on movement or distortion of the image.

The reason most people do not get these specific imaging procedures is because they can be somewhat frightening, particularly for children, the first time. But remember, that any type of back pain that interferes in your daily ability to work, enjoy your family, or sleep comfortably is a problem that needs attention and could be the warning signal of a much more serious complication.

What Happens During an MRI?

During an MRI, the patient will lay down on the examination table and technicians may strap the patient down, but only to keep the correct position for the maximum display of the image. Depending on the facility and the examination, some patients may have contrast fluid injected after about ⅔ of the exam is completed. Contrast fluid is a totally harmless chemical administered intravenously that creates a reaction within the  body to highlight abnormalities like compressed or blocked blood vessels or diseased tissues. Your doctor will inform you prior to the procedure if contrast fluid will be necessary. The table will be slowly moved into the MRI chamber, you will usually be head-first, and then the exam begins. Patients can often hear a steady drumming or thumping sound within the chamber. Some doctors request that a patient abstain from food or drink varying hours before the exam. Your doctor or imagining technicians can answer all of these questions for you. Also, the doctors can see and speak to you and you to them as well. So if anything is particularly uncomfortable or confusing, let your doctor know immediately.

Living with pain is unnecessary and harmful to your mental and physical health. Having these examinations can help alleviate the everyday pain that holds your back from experiencing and enjoying your life to the fullest. A life without the constant, straining aggravation of back pain is possible if you can take control of your medical health and talk to your doctor about getting serious about solutions for your pain.