Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic tool. Images are created using an electro-magnet. The images obtained are based on water content of tissues. A neck or back MRI does not involve radiation. It is used to image many parts of the spine such as discs, facet joints, spinal nerves, tumors, infections, cysts and other structures. A neck or back MRI provides more images from more views than traditional x-rays. These detailed and varied images may provide your doctor information not available by other tests.

An MRI is used to evaluate many types of spinal conditions. Typically, an MRI is not needed unless pain persists despite treatment with medication and physical therapy.


Before a Neck or Back MRI

  • You will be asked several questions about any metal or electrical implants you may have.
  • Let the technician know if you are pregnant or may be pregnant.
  • You will be asked to remove all metal objects and jewelry.

During a Neck or Back MRI

  • Most often, neck or back MRIs are made with the patient lying on a table that slides into a scanner. There are a few systems in which the neck or back MRI is made with the patient standing or seated.
  • The technician will help you to get into the best position for the imaging.
  • You will be asked to remain still while the images are being made.
  • In some cases, the doctor may order a neck or back MRI to be performed using a contrast material (dye) to make certain tissue easier to evaluate.
  • The procedure will usually take less than 30 minutes. If a dye is used, it may take longer.

After a Neck or Back MRI

  • You will leave the neck or back MRI area and go home.
  • A radiologist will read the images and make a report.
  • You will have a follow-up appointment with your doctor after the neck or back MRI to discuss the findings.
  • You may be told that the results of your MRI will be sent to the doctor who ordered the test. This indicates that a report will be sent. If you are seeing a surgeon, they will need the actual images to give you the best information about your treatment options. You will need to obtain these from the imaging center (either on disc or on film) and be sure to bring them to your follow-up appointment.
MRI radicular pain