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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Lumbar Spine

What's an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)?

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a safe and painless test that uses magnets and radio waves to make detailed pictures of the body's organs, muscles, soft tissues, and structures. Unlike a CAT scan, an MRI doesn’t use radiation.

MRIs are done in hospitals and at radiology centers.

What Is a Lumbar Spine MRI?

An MRI of the lumbar spine produces detailed pictures of the lumbar spine (the bones, disks, spinal cord, and other structures in the lower back).

Why Are Lumbar Spine MRIs Done?

A lumbar spine MRI can detect a variety of conditions in the lower back, including problems with the bones (vertebrae), soft tissues (such as the spinal cord), nerves, and disks.

Sometimes, doctors order an MRI to check the anatomy of the lumbar spine or to look for injuries in the area. For example, the scan can find areas of the spine where the spinal canal (which contains the spinal cord) is too narrow and might require surgery. It can assess the disks to see if they’re bulging, ruptured, or pressing on the spinal cord or nerves.

The MRI also can help doctors:

  • Evaluate symptoms such as lower back pain, leg pain, numbness, tingling or weakness.
  • Look into problems with bladder and bowel control.
  • Diagnose tumors, bleeding, swelling, and infections or inflammatory conditions in the vertebrae or surrounding tissues.

What if I Have Questions?

If you have questions about the lumbar spine MRI or the results of the test, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the MRI technician before the exam.