Feb 10, 2015

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a technology that allows physicians to see musculoskeletal and internal anatomy and diseases much more clearly. MRIs are especially helpful for spine surgeons who need to be very precise about where to operate to achieve the optimal outcome without causing harm to a patient.

If you haven’t gotten an MRI yourself, you’ve probably seen one on TV. The patient slides into a tube and lies still while the scan is in progress. But many patients do not realize is that all MRI units are not alike. The quality of an MRI depends on several factors, including the strength of the magnet and whether the MRI machine is open or closed. The protocol set up by the radiology group that manages it can also determine the final quality of the scan.

After the scan is completed, you should receive a copy on a CD for your physician to review. This is important in that the radiologist’s report of the scan may vary if the radiologist knows what your doctor is looking for. A radiologist is trained to read the scan as accurately as possible, but if he or she is not specialized in spine imaging, then it is possible to miss the details necessary to address your problem. In addition, patients may have a high percentage of degenerative changes that are not causing symptoms (20-70% depending on the patient’s age), so without knowing the details of the patient’s history and physical findings, the MRI report may not be relevant.

In my opinion, it is critical that the physician who orders the test should look at the images and review it with the patient. Before your MRI, ask your doctor where it will be done and if it is a high quality scan. Will it be read by a neuro-radiologist specializing in spine imaging? Will you get a copy of it? Most importantly, make sure you find out when your physician plans to review it and contact you about the results.