When we are evaluating the cause of pain, particularly back or leg pain, we may suggest that you have an MRI scan. An MRI is a form of imaging that is particularly good at showing changes in the soft tissues. For example, an MRI spine can very clearly show changes in the discs in your back that may be giving rise to sciatica (leg pain).
Unlike xrays or CT scans, they do not expose you to radiation that in large doses can be harmful. Instead they utilise a strong magnetic field to generate their images. This means that some patients who have implanted devices (such as pacemakers or internal defibrillators) may not be able to have a scan. If you think this applies to you, and we have organised a scan, please contact us to discuss further, or discuss it with the MRI department of the relevant hospital.
An MRI scan of a spine
MRI scans are valuable tools in helping us determine the cause of pain. However, there are some limitations that you should be aware of:
In general, MRI scans are much more useful for diagnosing the causes of leg pain than of back pain.
MRI scans are only a picture of your back at one moment, in one fixed position - they don't tell us how your back, or your pain system are functioning.
MRI scans can be 'normal', yet you can have significant pain.
MRI scans can have 'abnormalities', yet the pain you're experiencing can be due to something other than the changes seen on scans.
Many things that are reported on MRI scan results as abnormalities, are actually part of the normal ageing process. For example, did you know that on average, 8 out of 10 fifty year old people will have 'disk degeneration' reported on an MRI report, whether or not they have any pain?!