When do you need an MRI?

What is an MRI?

How does MRI help Chiropractic MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It is a non-invasive imaging technique that uses powerful magnets, radio waves, and a computer to create detailed images of the bone and soft tissues of your spine with remarkable detail. We can identify injuries, inflammation, or degeneration in the spine and surrounding structures. MRI scans can help chiropractors identify hidden problems, such as disc herniation, nerve impingement, or degenerative changes in the spine. MRIs do not expose patients to radiation making them the safest option for imaging your spine.




How does an MRI work?

Do you want to know how an MRI works?

This part is for the technical people who want to understand how MRI’s really work, so if that’s NOT you, please feel free to skip ahead to the next heading titled What are the Advantages of MRI 😊

If you ARE interested in understanding the technical side of things, open the box below titled How MRI’s Work.

How MRI's work

MRI utilises a combination of strong magnetic fields and radio waves to generate high-resolution images without the use of ionising radiation, making it a safe and widely used diagnostic tool. Here’s how it works:

  1. Magnetic Field: MRI machines contain powerful magnets that generate a strong magnetic field within the imaging area which aligns the hydrogen atoms present in the body’s tissues, particularly in water molecules.
  2. Radiofrequency Pulse: When a patient enters the MRI machine, radiofrequency pulses are applied to the body, causing the aligned hydrogen atoms to temporarily move out of alignment. As the radiofrequency pulse is turned off, the hydrogen atoms return to their original alignment, emitting radiofrequency signals in the process.
  3. Signal Detection: Specialised coils within the MRI machine detect these emitted radiofrequency signals. The strength and duration of the signals vary depending on the type of tissue and its surrounding environment. Different tissues produce distinct signals, allowing for differentiation between various structures within the body.
  4. Image Reconstruction: The detected radiofrequency signals are processed by a computer to create detailed cross-sectional images of the body’s internal structures. By analysing the signals emitted by hydrogen atoms in different tissues, the MRI machine generates highly detailed images providing valuable information for diagnosis and treatment planning.

How does an MRI workMRI can produce images in multiple planes (e.g., axial, sagittal, and coronal), allowing healthcare providers to examine structures from various perspectives. The resulting images provide detailed anatomical information about organs, soft tissues, bones, blood vessels, and the central nervous system, making MRI a versatile and invaluable tool in diagnosing a wide range of medical conditions.


What are the advantages of MRI?

MRI safe for children and pregnant womenMRIs are a non-invasive imaging technique that does not require any exposure to ionising radiation. This makes them a safe choice for patients, including pregnant women and those with certain health conditions that may contraindicate other imaging methods.

They also provide more detailed and accurate information than X-rays and CAT scans.



When do you need an MRI?

While MRIs are a valuable diagnostic tool, they are not necessary for every patient. Indeed, we will only recommend getting an MRI when we believe it will significantly contribute to your diagnosis, care, and overall well-being.

Examples of when we would consider ordering these tests are:

  1. You have severe or persistent symptoms such as unexplained pain, weakness, numbness, tingling, or limited mobility
  2. We need to see the structure of your spine to obtain an accurate diagnosis of your problems
  3. Persistent or severe pain that does not improve with conservative treatment
  4. Suspected nerve compression or spinal cord involvement
  5. We are unhappy with the progress of your treatment

In situations like these, this information can be crucial for determining the most appropriate treatment plan for a patient.



How can an MRI help a Townsville Chiropractor?

Diagnosis: One of the fundamental aspects of chiropractic care is accurately diagnosing the underlying causes of your musculoskeletal complaints. Whilst we are highly skilled in performing physical examinations and assessing spinal function and alignment, sometimes we will need to look at the structure of your spine, ligaments, joints, and muscles to make an accurate assessment of your spine.

When do I need an MRI
: MRI can provide us with detailed images of your spine enabling us to accurately diagnose what may be contributing to your symptoms such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, nerve impingement, or other structural abnormalities.


Treatment: MRI can play a vital role in designing your individual treatment plan. For example, if MRI reveals a herniated disc compressing a nerve root, we can modify your treatment techniques to alleviate pressure on your affected nerves and promote healing of the injured tissues whilst avoiding exacerbating your symptoms.


MRI Scans and Insurance Coverage

Can Chiropractors order MRI’s?

Yes, we can order MRI’s; however, they are not covered by Medicare. This is the same for your doctor and all other allied health professionals. An MRI usually costs around $200-$300.

Only a specialist can order a CAT scan and have the cost covered by Medicare.

What if my MRI shows nothing is wrong?

The bottom line is that not all pain is able to be detected on an X-ray or MRI. This does not mean there is nothing wrong or there is nothing we can do to help you.

Indeed, the less damage we see on an MRI, the more likely it is that we can help you.



Can an MRI lead to a wrong diagnosis?

YES, this is a very large problem with MRI’s.

As we age there is going to be wear and tear changes in every body’s spine. We see bulging discs in virtually every spine we see in older patients, it is a normal part of the aging process. The important question is not whether you have any damage to your spine, it’s whether this damage is actually causing your symptoms or is just incidental to the cause of your problems.

The changes we see on an MRI have taken years to develop. If you have back pain that has been present for weeks, or even months, it is very possible those changes were there long before your pain started.

One scientific study in the American Journal of Neuroradiology looked at how often people with no symptoms have bulging discs in their spine.  It found 50% of people over 40 years of age have a bulging disc that was not causing any symptoms. This went up to 60% in 50-year-olds, 69% in 60-year-olds, 77% in 70-year-olds and 84% in 80-year-olds.

Medicine has a terrible habit of assuming cause and effect when it comes to spines. Patients often tell us they have had an MRI of the spine for back pain and it showed the cause of the pain was the bulging disc. As you can see from the information above the majority of people without back pain have bulging discs as they age, so you can’t just assume the disc is the cause of the problem simply because it is there.

Always remember that whilst an MRI can provide valuable information, it is only one tool used in combination with your clinical examination, your history, and other diagnostic tests to diagnose your problems and design your treatment plan.



In conclusion, MRI scans can be an invaluable tool helping us to assess your spinal structure and design the best treatment for you. They are not necessary is the vast majority of the patients we see; however, in very severe and complex cases they can be extremely helpful.

We will discuss with you at the time of examination, and during your treatment program, if we believe an MRI may be necessary for you.




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