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What does an MRI scan of the lumbar spine (low back) show?

MRI scans are frequently used to evaluate the internal structures of the lumbar spine, also known as the low back. A variety of trends have increased the use of MRI in evaluating the spine - more sports activity, increase in obesity rates, and we've remained much more active into our later years than previous generations.

If you've injured your back or have chronic back pain, your doctor will probably first order an x-ray. After an x-ray, an MRI may be needed to evaluate the internal structures of the lumbar spine. On your doctor's order for the MRI you might see:

"r/o disc disease" - this refers to the discs that act as shock absorbers between the vertebral bodies of the spine. They can be injured or "flatten" over time and bulge and press on nerve roots.

"r/o herniation"- this refers to a disc herniation. If the outer part of the disc tears, a jelly like substance can escape out (aka herniate) and cause radiating pain or weakness in the leg and foot.

"r/o stenosis" - this refers to narrowing of the spinal canal and openings for the nerve roots. Bulging discs and other degenerative changes of the spine can narrow the spinal canal, causing back pain.

(FYI - "r/o" is short for "rule out")

An MRI of the lumbar spine will evaluate:


A lumbar spine MRI will include the lumbar vertebral bodies, lamina, facets, spinous process and parts of the lower thoracic spine and the upper sacral spine. The lumbar spine MRI can detect bone fractures, tumors, infection and evaluate post-surgical changes. An MRI can also determine the extent of degenerative changes (arthritis) and be

used for pre-operative planning for spinal fusion.


Lumbar spine MRIs are very good at looking at the discs between your vertebral bodies. A lumbar spine MRI can detect disc flattening, bulges, herniations, and infection (aka discitis).

Spinal Canal and Neural Foramina

Spinal nerves travel down through the spinal canal and leave at each level of the lumbar spine. The nerves leave the canal through holes called the neural foramina. The canal and these exit points can be blocked and cause pain or leg and foot weakness.

Conus and Nerve Roots

The conus is the end of the spinal cord - it looks like a cone with many nerve roots extending from it. A lumbar spine MRI is very good at detecting tumors, inflammation or impingement on these structures.

Soft Tissues

This refers to the muscles and tissues around your lumbar spine. The lumbar spine MRI can detect infections, fluid collections and tumors of these structures.

Your Lumbar Spine MRI Scan

A lumbar spine MRI generally takes about 20-30 minutes or so to complete. If you are going for one, wear loose comfortable clothing and remember to remove all metal (jewelry, phones, rings, etc) before going into the MRI scan room. If you've had surgery or have a history of cancer, you'll probably have the test done with MRI contrast.

If you're insured. you may need to have your test authorized (approved) by your insurance company first. If you're uninsured and need to look up prices and buy an MRI scan of the lumbar spine, you can use our website to look up MRI scan costs .

Have you had a Lumbar Spine MRI scan? What was it like? Please leave your comments below.

Category: Forex

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