The Use Of MRI Scans In Diagnosing Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain can often be exceptionally difficult to diagnose.  It is often the case that a patient may be in chronic pain, but a specific diagnosis may be elusive.  This is where an MRI scan can help effectively pinpoint the exact cause of the lower back pain, effectively enabling it to be treated.

Is An MRI Scan Always Required?

An MRI scan is not always the first option for a doctor or pain consultant.  If he or she can diagnosis the cause of your back pain, then an MRI scan will not usually be required.

One of the difficulties with undertaking an MRI scan, is that the patient has to lie very still, in a tube that is quite enclosed and when you have back pain it can be quite hard to lie still and flat for even a few minutes, let alone 30-40 minutes, as an MRI scan requires.

MRI As Confirmation

If your pain consultant or doctor has an idea what is wrong with your back, then they may use an MRI to confirm their diagnosis.  This means that if they suspect that you have got a trapped nerve in the lower back, or a fracture, an infection or growth in the lower back area, then an MRI scan will be used to confirm their diagnosis.

Why An MRI Not An X-Ray?

Basically an MRI scan is particularly useful in providing detailed information about the state of the discs in the back as well as the nerve roots.  The level of detail that an MRI scan can provide is much greater than an X-Ray, hence why it is used in preference to an X-Ray.  It is simply not possible to assess the condition or state of nerve roots using an X-Ray.

MRIs Pre-Surgery

An MRI scan may be recommended even after a diagnosis has taken place.  If surgery is planned, the physician may request an MRI scan to assess the condition and state of the area that is to be operated on.  This can help the surgeon ensure that he or she is appraised of as much information as possible, prior to the surgical procedure taking place.

Do MRIs Hurt?

MRI procedures are pain free.  However, the fact that you have to lie very flat and very still for some time can mean that patients can experience discomfort, especially if they are in pain anyway.

Some patients also find the experience a little claustrophobic, but this can generally be alleviated through deep breathing and sharing these anxieties with the staff undertaking the MRI scan, they are used to helping patients who may feel nervous about the scan.

Are There Disadvantages To Having An MRI Scan?

On occasion the MRI scan may reveal something such as a disc prolapse in the lower back, that does not actually require any treatment, because it is not the source of the pain and is not actually causing pain.  Although sometimes this can lead to anxiety in a patient, your pain consultant will talk through any issues with you, to ensure that these anxieties are reduced. 

There are no other potential disadvantages to undergoing an MRI.

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