Smiling female doctor looking at patient undergoing MRI in hospital

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been a significant innovation for evaluating orthopedic pathologies. The imaging modality allows us to see a three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of particular body parts. CT scans provide a similar 3D image; these are used in orthopedics to show bone information mostly. However, the MRI shows more details about soft tissue structures. 

The MRI is a pivotal piece of equipment for our team. At South Shore Orthopedics, we know these machines can seem daunting, but our team is here to explain it.   

Using The MRI On The Lower Back 

Regarding the lower back (lumbar) pathology, it allows us to visualize the nerves and spinal cord. Many patients come to me requesting an MRI of the lumbar spine to help determine their symptoms’ cause. 

When does a patient need an MRI of the lower back?  What structures are we looking at? How does it help providers? Here is a quick review to shed some light on this topic.

When Do You Get An MRI?

MRI of the lumbar spine is rarely indicated during a first evaluation.  Most problems surrounding the lower back can be managed with conservative measures consisting of light pain medications and stretching exercises. MRI of the lumbar spine is indicated when these traditional measures fail to provide relief.  

The MRI aims to identify pain generators that can be addressed with more targeted therapy – such as injections or surgery. Certain situations require an urgent lumbar spine MRI; a doctor can help decide if this is necessary. This is why consultations are essential in ensuring you get the correct care level. 

What Is It For?

Many structures of the lumbar spine can be viewed on MRI. Most notably, we look at the nerves and see if anything is compressing or pushing on them.  

Other structures that can be seen on MRI include the intervertebral discs, facet joints, supporting ligaments, vertebral bodies, and paraspinal muscles. An MRI can also demonstrate things in the spine that are not supposed to be there – cysts, infections, fractures, and tumors.  

How Does It Help?

MRIs are another “data point” in evaluating what is causing a patient’s symptoms. Just because we see something on an MRI does not necessarily mean it’s causing symptoms. Doctors use other pieces of “data” to correlate MRI findings with symptoms – description of symptoms, physical exam findings, and another test can be equally as crucial as an MRI. 

Once the correlation is established, the MRI can direct target therapy. An injection or surgery can be performed at a specific location. This is when your condition is connected to one specific area of the body. 

Schedule An Appointment With South Shore Orthopedics

The MRI is a very useful component of treatment for orthopedic issues. As a team, we work to give you a deeper understanding of our equipment to take some of the mystery out of the process. Are you suffering from a lower back issue and looking for a solution? The South Shore Orthopedics team is here to help. Contact our office or check out our website to get started today.