MRI: An Effective Diagnostic Tool For Diagnosing The Cause Of Neck Pain

MRI: An Effective Diagnostic Tool For Diagnosing The Cause Of Neck Pain


Undertaking an MRI scan can be one of the most effective tools for diagnosing neck pain. Although this is often not the first test undertaken within the NHS, this is purely a matter of economics. Any MRI scan is expensive for the NHS, but when it comes to fighting neck pain, an MRI scan is actually the most effective weapon that we have.


Usually an MRI scan is only done if there is a suspicion that the neck pain is being caused by nerves being trapped or pinched within the neck and the MRI scan is used to confirm this suspicion as well as to locate the exact nerves that are causing the problem.


Difficulty In Diagnosing Neck Pain


Any neck pain can be very difficult to assess in terms of what has caused the pain to start. The neck is a really complex area in anatomical terms. It is home to the top of the spine, sometimes referred to as the spinal column. The spinal column protects the head as well as the spinal cord.


There are 7 bones in the neck, which are called the cervical vertebrae and they are pivotal in helping the head and the top of the spinal column remain flexible. In between the cervical bones are inververtebral discs, which are, in effect, little discs comprised of gristle. There are also facet joints, ligaments and muscles in this area, so it is not just comprised of bones; there are a lot of soft tissues in this area as well.


But central to any neck pain are the nerve roots that are located in the neck. These unite to form nerve trunks that actually run directly into your arms. These nerves are the communicators of sensation and when they feel pain, they transmit it efficiently to the brain, meaning that you certainly feel the pain!


The Benefits Of MRI Scans


Traditionally x-rays have been used to establish the cause of neck pain, but the difficulty with an x-ray is that it does not show the soft tissue in the neck: it really only shows the bone.


If the pain is being caused by a bone then this will show up in an x-ray, but if the pain is being caused by a nerve that is trapped or a problem with any soft tissue, then an x-ray will be ineffective.


However, an MRI scan, which is Magnetic Resonance Imaging, is a way in which soft tissue can be examined without a surgical procedure being undertaken.


Given the number of muscles, ligaments, inververtebral discs etc that are all located in the spine, there are a whole range of ‘soft tissue’ issues that can be highlighted using an MRI scan.


The results are quick, extremely accurate and usually, the exact nerve that is causing the pain to originate can be effectively pinpointed and further treatment can be undertaken to alleviate the pain.

Without the benefits of an MRI scan, it can feel as if consultants are stumbling in the dark and with this one, non-invasive procedure, the light is switched on and everyone can see exactly where the problem lies. For patients experiencing significant levels of neck pain, this is not simply a benefit, it can literally give them back their lives! 





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