Cervical Spine MRI: What Do I Need to Know?
Imagine waking up in the morning, you sit up out of bed, turn your neck slightly, and you feel it. That tinge of pain. You groan and roll your eyes, this isn’t how you want today to begin. This is a common occurrence, 4 out of 5 people in the UK report having back pain each year. If the discomfort wasn’t enough, the other trouble is figuring out at what point you need medical intervention.
We like to think that everything will sort itself out eventually, but when it comes to back pain that is seldom the case. Neck and upper cervical spine pain can indicate a potentially serious issue. The only way to know for sure is through a spine MRI.
Continue reading to find out how an MRI can be used to help relieve your neck and back pain and what to expect from a spine MRI procedure.
What is the Cervical Spine?
The cervical spine refers to the top seven vertebrae of your spine. They are referred to as C1 – C7. Each vertebra has an arch of bone and when stacked together form a hollow tube called the spinal canal.
This spinal canal is home to your spinal cord, and nerve bundles pass through. These are coated in cerebrospinal fluid and the meninges form a three-layer protective sheath around the cord.
The vertebrae at each level also have two holes on either side called foramina. These holes allow pairs of nerves to exit the spinal canal and support nerve function for the rest of the body.
Attached to the cervical spine are muscles and ligaments that keep the body upright.
What Can a Cervical Spine MRI Diagnose?
A cervical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is used to take images of the following structures:
- C1 - C7 vertebrae
- Intervertebral Discs
- Spinal Cord
- Brain Stem
- Arteries and Veins
- Additional soft tissue in the neck and surrounding spine
The resulting images from a back MRI can help doctors diagnose a multitude of disorders including:
- Spinal Birth Defects
- Artery or Vein disorders
- Abnormal growths or Tumors
- Herniated Discs
- Cervical Stenosis
- Pinched Nerves
Since your spine houses your spinal cord, any potential injury or pressure can produce symptoms across your body. While a physical examination is important, it can be challenging to pinpoint the exact location or source of the symptoms. It's only an MRI scan that can find the source of those symptoms.
Doctors will use the images combined with the symptoms you are experiencing to form a diagnosis. It's important to catch these problems early for medical intervention to prevent them from getting worse.
How Do I Prepare for an MRI?
An MRI is a simple procedure. It doesn't require much preparation beyond showing up for your appointment. Generally, it is not necessary to fast before a cervical spine MRI, but each clinic has its policies. Before your scan, there are two main requirements from you on the day of your appointment.
1. Complete Medical History
Before your scan, a technician will interview you about your medical history. This will include any allergies. Your scan may include the use of contrast material or if you are claustrophobic it may include a mild sedative. Therefore it is important to disclose if you have any history of allergic reactions to medication.
If you have electronic implants, such as a pacemaker or defibrillator, the magnetic field generated by the machine can cause changes in the settings of these devices. This will need to be closely monitored during and after your procedure.
The presence of metal can cause distorted images. If you have any stints, metal plates, or screws, inform the technician. They can work around these to achieve the necessary scan results.
It’s also important to disclose if you are pregnant. Although there is currently no correlation between MRIs and birth defects, it is still important for the radiographer to know your full medical history.
2. Change and Remove Any Metal
Before your scan, you will be asked to change into a hospital gown. Some centres allow you to wear personal loose-fitting clothing, check with your MRI clinic for their policy. You will need to remove any metal, this includes piercings, jewellery, and hearing aids. Metal objects cause distorted images, and the scan will need to be repeated.
This non-invasive diagnostic procedure is fairly straightforward. You can expect to arrive for your appointment and leave promptly. If you have taken a sedative, it can take some time for the effects to wear off. In the meantime, you cannot operate a vehicle.
What is The Cost of a Cervical Spine MRI?
The national average for a private MRI scan is £363. At one of our centres, MRI scans start as low as £289, far below the national average.
If you are experiencing back or neck pain, it’s common to feel anxious to find relief. If you choose to have an MRI through the NHS you could be waiting up to 18 weeks.
What does this mean for you? The answer is more discomfort, more time off work, and more disruption to your life.
However, at Scan.com you can have an appointment scheduled in as little as 5 working days. Finding the source of your back and neck pain earlier allows you to begin rehabilitation that much sooner.
What Happens After an MRI Scan?
After your scan is complete, the radiographer will go over the images to ensure they show the necessary structures. Once complete you will be guided back to a private room where you can change and are free to go about your day.
Again, if you have taken a sedative it takes time to wear off. It is recommended to avoid driving a vehicle, therefore you should arrange alternate transportation.
In the days following your procedure, a radiologist will examine the images from your scan. They will then send their report and findings to your doctor. Your doctor will be in touch with you to discuss the results and the necessary treatment plan, if applicable.
You may not want to admit your neck and back pain is serious enough to seek medical attention. But it’s important to find the root cause of your discomfort to ensure there isn’t a more serious underlying problem.
A cervical MRI can give doctors an accurate depiction of your cervical spine, providing the opportunity to make a potential diagnosis.
If you want to avoid the long NHS wait times, make a private MRI scan appointment at one of our centres. We can help you get back to living life, pain-free.