What is Lumbar Spine MRI?
A lumbar spine MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a painless radiology exam. This is performed to examine the cause of pain in the lower back (lumbar spine) and its surrounding areas in a non-invasive manner.
In this scan, multiple images of the blood vessels and soft tissues of the lower back are generated using radio waves and a strong magnetic field.
The lumbar spine MRI helps doctors in diagnosing problems of the spinal cord, bones, and nerves in the back such as multiple sclerosis, which is a disease that damages the central nervous system and affects the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerves. It also helps in diagnosing infections, tumors, swelling, bleeding, structural, or developmental abnormalities in the lower spine or surrounding areas.
The MRI of the lower back may be done with or without the use of contrast material (dye) that is injected into the veins. When the contrast material is used, the blocked blood vessels are seen more clearly in the scanned images.
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Who Should Get a Lumbar Spine MRI?
Your doctor may recommend a lumbar spine MRI if you have one or more of the following symptoms or ailments:
- Severe pain in the lower back
- Injury to the lower back
- Numbness or weakness in one leg
- History of the brain or spinal cancer
- Difficulty in passing urine or stools
- Difficulty in controlling urine or stools
- Difficulty with walking and maintaining body balance
- Birth defects of the spine
What is the Purpose of a Lumbar Spine MRI?
Your doctor may recommend a lumbar spine MRI to:
- Diagnose the cause of unusual pain in the lower back.
- Assess swelling and compression of the nerves and spinal cord.
- Detect infection of the spinal cord and its coverings (meninges).
- Check the structure and alignment of the spinal cord and bones.
- Detect birth defects and abnormalities of the spinal cord.
- Assess diseases of the lower back such as herniated or slipped disc and sciatica (lower back pain runs down into lower leg).
- Look for tumor or growth on or around the spinal cord.
- Monitor injury to the lower back after an accident.
- Help plan an operation on the lower back.
- Monitor the changes in the lower back after an operation done within the past 10 years.
Your doctor may also ask you to take the Cervical Spine MRI (Neck) to confirm the diagnosis for abnormalities in the neck. Your doctor may even recommend a Rheumatoid Arthritis Factor test to evaluate your risk for rheumatoid arthritis. Depending on the results, your doctor will confirm the diagnosis and plan your treatment.
How Is a Lumbar Spine MRI Performed?
- Before starting the MRI of the lower back, you will have to remove all the metal objects on your body, including eyeglasses, jewelry, hairpins, and dentures.
- A technologist will ask you to lie still on the MRI scanner table, which will move slowly through a doughnut-shaped MRI machine.
- Once you are inside the MRI machine, multiple images of your lower back will be taken, and these will be displayed on a monitor.
- At certain points during the scan, the technologist will ask you to hold your breath for 10 to 12 seconds. Make sure you don’t move during the scan as any movement can blur the images.
In case, your doctor has asked you to take a lumbar spine MRI with contrast, then contrast dye will be injected into your vein shortly after an initial series of scans. Additional images will be taken following the injection.
How Long Does a Lumbar Spine MRI Take?
An MRI of the lumbar spine is usually completed between 30 to 60 minutes.
Is Radiation Involved in a Lumbar Spine MRI?
No. An MRI is a painless imaging test that doesn’t use radiation.
Are There Any Risks in Taking a Lumbar Spine MRI?
- People who have implants such as a cardiac pacemaker, coronary stent, orthopedic rods, and plates, which contain metal, may face certain risks. The magnets used in an MRI can make implanted pins or screws move in the body or cause problems with pacemakers.
- Some people might also have an allergic reaction to the contrast dye used in an MRI.
When Will I Receive My Results?
Once the lumbar spine MRI is completed, you will receive your results within 3-5 business days in your LabFinder portal.
How Should I Prepare for a Lumbar Spine MRI?
Please refer to the simple preparation guidelines given below or consult with your doctor or radiology center where you are being treated. Do not forget to bring your LabFinder Order and Insurance Card to your appointment.