Having An MRI Scan For Neck Pain: Anxiety and Claustrophobia


An MRI scan is a very routine, safe and non-invasive procedure that is simply used to diagnose certain neck conditions that will simply not show up in an X Ray or even a CT scan. So there are occasions when your pain consultant may feel that the only diagnostic tool that will be useful is an MRI scan.

For most people this is not a problem; they may not want to have an MRI scan, but they are not unduly worried or anxious about it. But many people find that they are anxious to a certain level. This may be very mild anxiety, for example, being worried about what will happen if s/he needs to the toilet during the scan to being worried that the neck pain will be intense and they will not be able to stay still which will make the MRI scan lengthy and difficult.

But for some people the anxiety can breed and they find that the MRI scan is a very daunting prospect. Even more so for people who have claustrophobia. However, if you are having an MRI for neck pain and you are concerned that your anxiety levels are escalating then above all do not worry; there are some ways that the MRI scan can be made easier for you.

Tell Your Healthcare Professionals

Research has shown (and is supported by anecdotal evidence) that the more informed a patient is about the scan then the less threatening it will be. So if you experience either anxiety or claustrophobia then immediately let people know so that the MRI will be as stress free as possible.

The radiographers involved in actually carrying out the scan need to know so that they can talk you through all the aspects of the MRI scan and also they will help you know that they will be able to help you if you do feel anxious or ‘trapped’. The scan can always be stopped and then started again. Obviously this is not the preferred option, but it can help people to feel less trapped to concentrate on the fact that they can indeed get out at any point.

Clichéd as it may sound, using deep breathing techniques prior to the scan and during it can help reduce anxiety levels; it helps to stop your heart from racing and when the heart is beating normally we generally feel calmer. The anxiety about being trapped is related to our prehistoric ancestors; they had the ‘fight or flight’ reaction to threatening situations – they met a threat and either they ran or they stayed to fight. So when we feel stressed or threatened we also have these feelings; so we often want to take flight, but if we can’t then we can get even more stressed. So to bring it back to basics, simply remember that you can ‘take flight’ from this situation by leaving it if required, which should help dissolve the feelings of anxiety.

Some people use coping strategies that are personal to them; they count sheep, recite poetry, list football players or use some kind of distraction that takes the mind off being in the scanner.

If you are still very worried then talk to your healthcare team about whether or not a mild anti-anxiety medication could be prescribed for you but otherwise take heart and trust in your healthcare team we are here to help make the MRI scan as easy and stress free as possible!



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