What Is a Lumbar MRI?
An MRI uses
magnets and radio waves to capture images inside your body without making a
surgical incision. The scan allows your doctor to see the soft tissue of the
body, like muscles and organs, in addition to your bones.
An MRI can
be performed on any part of your body. However, a lumbar MRI specifically
examines the lumbar section
of your spine — a region from where back problems commonly originate.
spine is made up of the five lumbar vertebral bones (L1 thru L5), the sacrum (the bony “shield” at the
bottom of your spine), and the coccyx
(tailbone). In addition to bones, the lumbosacral spine is made up of large
blood vessels, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
Why a Lumbar MRI Is Done
doctor will use an MRI to better diagnose or treat problems with your spine.
Your condition could be caused by injury-related pain, disease, infection, or
other factors. Your doctor might order a lumbar MRI if you have the following
pain accompanied by fever
defects affecting the spine
to the lower spine
or severe lower back pain
with your bladder
of brain or spinal cancer
numbness, or other problems with your legs
doctor might also order a lumbar MRI if you’re scheduled for spinal surgery, so
that they can plan the procedure before making an incision.
provides a different kind of image than other imaging tests, such as X-ray, ultrasonography,
or CT scan. An MRI of the lumbar spine shows the bones, disks, and spinal cord,
as well as the spaces between the vertebral bones where nerves pass through.
The Risks of a Lumbar MRI Scan
Unlike an X-ray
or CT scan, an MRI does not use ionizing radiation.
It’s considered a safer alternative for patients, especially pregnant women.
Although side effects do sometimes occur, they’re extremely rare. There have
been no documented side effects from the radio waves and magnets used in the
scan to date.
there are risks for those who have implants containing metal. The magnets used
in an MRI can cause problems with pacemakers or cause implanted screws or pins
to shift in the body.
complication that can also arise is an allergic reaction to the contrast dye.
The most common type of contrast dye is gadolinium. While these allergic
reactions are often mild and easily controlled by medication, occasional
anaphylactic reactions (and even deaths) have been reported.
claustrophobic, you may feel uncomfortable while in the MRI machine. However,
there is nothing to fear. Your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to
help with your discomfort. In some cases, you can also be sedated during the
How to Prepare for a Lumbar MRI
test, tell your doctor if you have a pacemaker. Depending on the type of
pacemaker, your doctor may suggest another method for inspecting your lumbar
spine, such as a CT scan. However, some pacemaker models can be reprogrammed
before an MRI so they’re not disrupted during the examination.
MRI uses magnets, it can attract metals. Before the scan, you will be asked to remove
all jewelry and piercings and change into a hospital gown. Be sure to tell your
doctor if you have any metal that was implanted in you from previous surgeries.
Alert your doctor if any of the following items are present in your body:
joints or limbs
examinations use contrast dye that is injected into the bloodstream. This helps
provide a clearer image of the blood vessels in that area. The dye — typically
gadolinium — can sometimes cause an allergic reaction. Tell your doctor about
any allergies you have or allergic reactions you have had.
have chosen to be sedated for the procedure, it might not be safe to drive
afterwards. Instead, arrange for a ride home after the procedure.
How a Lumbar MRI Is Performed
machine looks like a large metal-and-plastic doughnut with a bench that slowly
glides you into the center of the opening. So long as you’ve followed your
doctor’s instructions and removed all metal, you’ll be completely safe in and
around the machine. The entire process can take from 30 to 90 minutes.
contrast dye is being used, a nurse or doctor will inject it through an
intravenous tube. In some cases, you may need to wait up to an hour for the dye
to work its way through your bloodstream and into your spine.
technician will have you lie on the bench, either on your back, side, or
stomach. You may receive a pillow or blanket if you have trouble lying on the
bench. The technician will control the movement of the bench using a remote
control from another room. They’ll be able to communicate with you through a
speaker in the machine.
machine will make some loud humming and thumping noises as the images are being
taken. Many hospitals offer earplugs, while others have televisions or
headphones to help you pass the time.
As the images
are being taken, the technician will ask you to hold your breath for a few
seconds. You won’t feel anything during the test as the magnets and radio
frequencies can’t be felt.
After a Lumbar MRI
test, you’re free to go about your day. However, if you took sedatives before
the procedure, you shouldn’t drive.
MRI images were projected onto film, it might take a few hours for the film to
develop. It will also take some time for your doctor to review the images and
interpret the results. More modern machines display images on a computer, so
your doctor can view them quickly.
It can take up to a week or more to receive all results from your MRI.
When the results are available, your doctor will call you to review them and
discuss the next steps in your treatment.