What does an MRI of the lower back show?
MRIs of the lower back, or lumbar spine MRI as it’s also known, can detect a variety of conditions in the lower back, including problems with the bones (vertebrae), soft tissues (such as the spinal cord), nerves, and disks. What does a lower back MRI reveal? An MRI uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of your body inside and out. This allows doctors to see areas that may not be visible with other imaging techniques, like x-rays and CT scans.
An MRI of the lower back is a diagnostic tool used to visualize the structures in the lumbar spine. This includes the bones (vertebrae), soft tissues (such as the spinal cord), nerves, and disks. An MRI can be used to detect a variety of conditions, including problems with any of these structures. A neck MRI is performed in much the same way, but uses a different machine to take images of the structures in the cervical spine.
Problems With Bone
One common reason to get a lumbar spine MRI is to check for problems with the soft tissues in the lower back. What does a lower back MRI reveal? This can include things like herniated disks, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis. A neck MRI is often done at the same time to compare the two areas. If there are problems in both the neck and lower back, it’s more likely that there’s a problem affecting both parts of the body. Other types of imaging may be needed, such as computed tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET). The doctor will discuss these other tests with you during your appointment. It’s important to know if you have any metal inside your body because MRIs use very strong magnets, which could cause metal objects to heat up quickly.
If your lower back hurts too much when lying down, the doctor might order an upright MRI instead.
The length of time required for an MRI depends on the type of machine used: short-tunnel scanners usually take only 20 minutes while open scanners take 40 minutes per scan.
Problems With Soft Tissue
One common reason to get a neck MRI is to check for problems with the soft tissues in the spine. What does a lower back MRI reveal? These problems can include herniated disks, bulging disks, and spinal cord compression. An MRI can also show whether there is any damage to the nerves in the spine. In some cases, a neck MRI may be used to look for tumors in the spine. It can detect tumor cells, abnormal masses, or abnormal tissue growths that are either benign or cancerous.
A lumbar spine MRI takes images of the lower part of your spine from top to bottom. It is often used as part of a medical evaluation for low back pain. The results will tell your doctor what parts of your body need treatment and how severe the problem might be.
Problems With Nerves
Nerves are responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and the body. They can be damaged by a variety of conditions, including inflammation, compression, and trauma. An MRI can help to detect these problems so that they can be treated appropriately. Nerve damage can cause a wide range of symptoms, from pain and numbness to paralysis. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential in order to avoid permanent damage. If you think you may have a problem with your nerves, be sure to ask your doctor about getting a same day MRI.
Problems With Disk(s)
Disks are gel-like cushions between the vertebrae that act as shock absorbers for the spine. The soft tissue inside the disk can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve, causing pain. What does a lower back MRI reveal? A herniated disk is a common cause of low back pain. An MRI can show whether you have a herniated disk and how severe it is. You may need to be sedated so that you don’t move during the procedure. In some cases, an MRI will help your doctor decide if surgery is needed to remove part of the disk from your spinal cord. It’s rare, but disks can also burst (rupture) and require emergency surgery.
A lumbar spine MRI also helps detect:
- Infection: Most infections in the lumbar region occur in the discs. A ruptured disc could lead to an infection of bone (osteomyelitis).
- Cancer: While cancerous tumors in this area are uncommon, a tumor pressing on nerves in the lower back could cause sciatica symptoms below your knee.