MRI is a type of scan which uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to create detailed pictures of your spine.
MRI scans are mainly used to confirm a clinical diagnosis such as pain arising from a nerve root. Once a level is identified which corresponds to your symptoms, this can help to guide treatment.
MRIs are not normally used to determine causes of low back pain. They can help to eliminate causes of back pain such as infection and tumours although these are rare. Treatment for low back pain is limited to conservative management. MRIs do not change how we treat it.
X rays and CT scans are not routinely used to investigate spinal conditions. They are primarily used in the presence of trauma or complex surgical planning. X rays and CT scans involve a small to moderate radiation dose, and so would only be used if absolutely necessary.
People can often find MRI scanners a little claustrophobic. Normally you will be placed on a moving table and given earphones to listen to instructions and music (if requested). You will also be given an alarm bell, in case there are any issues. The scan will normally take between 20-40 minutes, depending on the type of scan required.