Affecting about 80 percent of the population at one time or another, back pain is a common reason to see a doctor. Oftentimes, the process of figuring out what’s causing spine-related discomfort involves image tests that may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). While there is some concern in the medical community about over-relying on MRIs, there are some instances – like the ones discussed below – when an open MRI may play a significant role in fine-tuning treatment recommendations.
Conservative Treatments Haven’t Worked for 4-6 Weeks
Most instances of back pain will respond well to conservative (non-surgical) treatment within 4-6 weeks from the time symptoms become noticeable. However, if medication, therapeutic exercise, hot and cold therapy, and various forms of PT aren’t effective beyond this point, it typically becomes increasingly likely that there’s a structural issue involved. An MRI produces the detailed bone and soft tissue images needed to determine if this may be the case.
A Specific Problem Other Than Sprain/Strain Is Suspected
An MRI isn’t likely to be ordered if the suspected caused of back pain is strained muscles and tendons or sprained ligaments. But if a specific structural problem, like a herniated disc, compressed nerve, or an abnormally narrow part of the spine, is believed to be the source of a patient’s symptoms, an MRI may confirm whether or not this is the case. An MRI can also be an important diagnostic tool if symptoms experienced may have more than one possible source. For instance, sciatica-like pain is sometimes caused by irritation of the nearby piriformis muscle.
New or Returning Symptoms Are Experienced After Surgery
While every effort is made to achieve a proper diagnosis prior to recommending spine surgery, there are times when symptoms might remain or return after a reasonable recovery period. An MRI is one of the tests that’s often done when this is the case. The results may either identify a previously undetected source of back pain or show an entirely new source of pain. With fusion surgery, for example, other parts of the spine sometimes become unstable enough post-surgery to trigger new symptoms.
MRIs, in general, are considered safer than the X-rays and CT scans that are also routinely performed on back pain sufferers because there is no radiation exposure to worry about. What makes an open MRI appealing is the way it’s performed. Patients with a fear of being in a confined space often feel more at ease when an open MRI is performed. Plus, the information shown in the results is just as detailed as what’s produced by a traditional MRI scan.