Spine MRI at Valley Radiology

Clarity is essential when it comes to your spinal cord's health.

Our MRI of the spine is a non-invasive diagnostic imaging procedure that produces detailed, high-resolution images of the spinal cord, vertebrae, discs, and other structures along the spine.

But it’s more than just technology—it’s a vital tool for early detection, precise diagnoses, and comprehensive treatment planning.

Early diagnosis of spinal conditions is crucial for effective treatment and recovery.

When you choose Valley Radiology for your spine MRI, you will experience leading-edge technologies and the utmost attention to your comfort and safety.

Our radiologists are board-certified and fellowship-trained, providing an added measure of confidence when interpreting your imaging results.

Three Types of Spine MRIs

The spinal cord is a significant part of the central nervous system, carries sensory and movement signals to the brain, and controls many reflexes. It extends from the base of the skull to the upper part of the lower back.

Depending on where you are experiencing pain or discomfort, Valley Radiology offers several types of spinal cord MRIs, which help your doctors diagnose, monitor, and plan treatment for several conditions.

  1. MRI cervical spine
    A C spine MRI provides a comprehensive and non-invasive view of the internal structures in the neck and upper spine. It is commonly used for individuals with persistent or chronic neck pain, nerve pain, or neurological symptoms related to the neck.

    These images help healthcare providers make more accurate diagnoses and develop appropriate treatment plans for your unique cervical spine condition.
  1. Thoracic spine MRI
    A thoracic spine MRIis typically ordered when your primary care provider or specialist suspects (or wants to rule out) specific thoracic spine-related conditions (e.g., spinal cord injury, herniated disc, spinal tumor, or other thoracic spine disorders).

    The images help your healthcare provider make accurate diagnoses and treatment plans for several conditions affecting the thoracic spine.
  1. MRI lumbar spine
    An MRI of the lumbar spine provides a comprehensive and non-invasive view of the internal structures of the lower back. This aids in the diagnosis and assessment of various medical conditions and helps healthcare providers determine the next steps and treatment plans.

    This type of MRI is commonly used for people with persistent lower back pain, nerve pain that radiates down the leg, or other symptoms related to the lower spine.

How Is a Spine MRI Different from Other Types of Spine Imaging?

A spine MRI is different from other types of spine imaging technologies like X-rays and CT scans in several important ways.

  • Non-invasive
    MRI is a non-invasive imaging technique that does not require injections, invasive procedures, or exposure to harmful chemicals or radiation. It is a preferred choice for diagnosing a wide range of spinal conditions.
  • No ionizing radiation
    One of the most significant differences is that spine MRIs do not use ionizing radiation, like X-rays and CT scans. Instead, it relies on powerful magnets and radio waves to create highly detailed images of the spine, discs, and surrounding tissues, making spine MRIs safer for repeated use.
  • Highly detailed images
    Spine MRIs provide high-resolution images of soft tissues (e.g., spinal cord, nerves, discs, and muscles), essential for diagnosing conditions involving soft tissue abnormalities (e.g., injuries, herniations, or tumors).
  • Contrast Dye-Enhanced Imaging
    Some spine MRIs may require a contrast dye to enhance the visibility of certain internal structures (e.g., blood vessels or tumors). This dye allows doctors to assess the extent of the abnormality or injury and plan proper treatments more easily.

What Does an MRI Scan of the Spine Show?

A spine MRI may be used to examine the spinal cord for injuries, illness, or abnormalities. It can help doctors assess the discs and determine if any are bulging, slipping, or pressing on the spinal cord. It can also help identify and diagnose the following:

  • Tumors
  • Fractures
  • Injuries and infections
  • Pinched nerve
  • Structural abnormalities
  • Unusual anatomy
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Internal bleeding
  • Degenerative diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis)

What Common Symptoms Might Indicate the Need for a Spine MRI?

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may be a candidate for a spine MRI. Ask your doctor or specialist for a referral to Valley Radiology

  • Persistent leg or back (lumbar) pain
  • Persistent neck (cervical) pain
  • Persistent mid-spinal (thoracic) pain
  • Pain radiating to the arms and chest
  • Pain radiating to the legs
  • Stiffness in the lower back that restricts the range of motion
  • Numbness
  • Weakness in limbs

How Long Does a Full Spine MRI Take?

The duration of a full spine MRI can vary and depends on several factors, such as

  • The specific protocol used
  • The type of MRI machine
  • Whether or not contrast dye is used
  • The patient’s overall health
  • The facility’s procedures
  • The number of image sequences required

On average, a full spine MRI can take 30-60 minutes or longer. For a more accurate estimate of how long you can expect to spend at Valley Radiology for your specific full spine MRI, please talk to one of our team members.

Do I Need to Do Anything Special to Prepare for a Spine MRI?

The good news is you do not need to restrict your food, water, or medication before most MRI scans. However, it is essential to note that some specialty MRI scans require certain restrictions, so be sure to talk to your doctor, or one of our helpful team members, before your appointment. They should provide you with detailed instructions for your specific scan.

You will also need to remove all clothing and change into a patient gown for the procedure. Because the machine acts as a large magnet, you will need to remove all metal from your body (e.g., earrings, necklaces, rings, watches, bracelets, etc.).

If you have internal metal from prior procedures, please alert us immediately.

Why Would Someone Be Ineligible for a Spine MRI?

If you have one or more of the following conditions, you may be ineligible for an MRI scan of the spine.

  • You have a pacemaker or have had heart valves replaced.
  • You have an insulin pump or other type of implantable pump.
  • You have vessel coils, filters, stents, or clips.
  • You are pregnant.
  • You have metal objects or fragments anywhere in your body.
  • You are unable to lie down for 30-60 minutes.

What Happens During a Spine MRI?

While MRIs vary depending on your unique condition and radiology facility, MRIs generally follow this process:

  • You will be asked to remove all jewelry, eyeglasses, hearing aids, hairpins, removable dental work, and all other objects that may interfere with the procedure.
  • You will be asked to remove all clothing and given a patient gown to wear.
  • If your procedure requires the use of a contrast dye, your doctor or technician will insert an intravenous (IV) line in your hand or arm for injection of the dye.
  • You will lie on a scan table that slides into a large tube with a circular opening. Pillows and straps may be used to prevent movement during the procedure.
  • You will be in constant communication with your technologist during the procedure.
  • You will be given earplugs or a headset to help block out some of the noise from the MIR machine.
  • You may notice a clicking sound during the procedure as the magnetic field is created and pulses of radio waves are sent from the scanner.
  • You will need to remain very still for the entire procedure to ensure the clearest images.
  • You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds while an image is created.
  • Once the scan is complete, the table will slide out of the scanner, you will be assisted off the table, and your IV line will be removed.

At Valley Radiology, we use all possible comfort measures and complete all MRI scans as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort.

What Are the Risks of Getting an MRI?

While all MRIs are considered safe, there are some considerations and potential risks associated with the spine.

  • Allergic reactions
    If a contrast dye is used to enhance the visibility of certain structures, there is a small risk of allergic reaction. Be sure to inform your healthcare provider if you have a history of allergies or previous adverse reactions to contrast agents.
  • Kidney function
    If a contrast dye is used, it can affect kidney function in those with pre-existing kidney problems. Inform your healthcare provider of any known kidney issues.
  • Claustrophobia
    Some patients may experience anxiety or claustrophobia when placed inside the MRI machine. MRI machines can be tight and noisy and may take up to 60 minutes. Ask our team about our MRI machine availability or sedation if you are concerned about enclosed spaces.
  • Pregnancy
    While there is no conclusive evidence that MRI scans harm a growing fetus, we recommend avoiding them for the first trimester—especially if a contrast agent is required. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about getting an MRI during pregnancy.
  • Tattoos and permanent makeup
    Some tattoos and permanent makeup contain metal fragments, which could heat up during the scan. Be sure to tell your doctor whether you have tattoos or permanent makeup to avoid discomfort.

What Should I Expect After a Spine MRI?

Unless you were given a sedative to help you relax, you can return to your normal daily activities, diet, and medicines immediately following the scan.

If a contrast dye is used during your procedure, you may be monitored on-site for a period for any adverse side effects or reactions. Though rare, these may include itching, swelling, rash, or difficulty breathing.

What Happens If Abnormalities Are Found During a Spine MRI?

If abnormalities are found during a spine MRI, the next steps will depend on the type and extent of the abnormality and the reason for the MRI. Here is a general overview of what might happen next:

  • Radiologist evaluation - to identify the abnormalities or anomalies in the spine
  • Detailed radiology report - to report all findings, impressions, and recommendations to the referring physician (e.g., primary care doctor, neurologist, orthopedic surgeon, or other specialist).
  • Patient consultation with the referring provider - to explain the details of the report
  • Treatment planning - to effectively manage and treat the abnormality or injury
  • Conservative management (e.g., physical therapy, pain management, medication, lifestyle changes)
  • Referral to a Specialist (e.g., neurosurgeon, orthopedic surgeon, oncologist, or other specialist)
  • Surgery (e.g., for spinal tumors, severe disc herniations, or spinal cord compression)
  • Monitoring (e.g., active surveillance and regular spine MRIs)

Please keep in mind that not all abnormalities found during a spine MRI indicate a serious issue, and some may be unrelated to the patient’s symptoms. Your referring physician will tailor your treatment to your unique circumstance and medical history.

Can I Receive a Copy of the MRI Images or Report for My Records?

Yes, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guarantees patient access to all medical imaging exams. Please get in touch with Valley Radiology and sign our release form if you want a copy of your MRI images and comprehensive medical report.

Are There Any Specific Considerations for Pediatric or Elderly Patients?

Pediatric and elderly patients may have unique needs when undergoing a spine MRI

Pediatric patients (age 21 or younger)

  • Younger patients require specialized MRI protocols to ensure their safety and comfort
  • Sedation or anesthesia may be necessary for very young children or those who cannot remain still throughout the procedure
  • Our technologists are experienced in working with pediatric patients to make the experience as comfortable, relaxing, and child-friendly as possible

Elderly patients (age 65 and older)

  • Elderly patients may have underlying health conditions or mobility issues that require special consideration during a spine MRI
  • Communication and patient comfort are paramount, and our staff members are trained to address the needs of elderly individuals

In both cases, the highly trained technologists at our MRI Center in Fayetteville and Angier, NC, are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all patients and tailoring the MRI experience to meet their specific healthcare needs.

Your Journey to Wellness

At Valley Radiology, we understand everyone has a unique path to wellness, and we are honored to be a part of it. Whether you’re struggling with persistent pain, neurological symptoms, or facing the unknown, we are ready to show you your path toward better health and wellness.

Spine MRIs are vital diagnostic tools for examining the spinal cord, vertebrae, discs, and surrounding structures. This non-invasive procedure provides detailed images without ionizing radiation, making it a preferred choice for diagnosing various spinal conditions.

With a commitment to patient care, leading-edge technology, and experienced professionals, Valley Radiology strives to provide accurate diagnoses and exceptional care to all patients needing spine MRIs.

Your health and well-being are our top priorities. If you have been referred to one of our imaging centers, please contact our Fayetteville or Angier, NC, locations to request a convenient appointment time.

Please note that doctor’s referral is required for a spine MRI and all other services except for mammogram.