If you’re like many of the patients we’ve seen, you’ve probably had an MRI, CT Scan, or other imaging of your spine completed at some point. These types of diagnostic scans are essential in properly diagnosing and treating the root causes of neck and back pain. Unfortunately, once you have your report you may find it confusing to read, and full of medical terminology you may be unfamiliar with. In this article, we are going to unpack a typical MRI report and look at the definitions and meanings of some commonly seen terms.
Disclaimer: This article is to be used for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for a diagnosis from a physician. Please consult with your physician before attempting any treatment regimen or diagnosis.
Total Spine and Orthopedics offers a Free MRI Review that allows you to have your MRI imaging and report reviewed by our team of physicians who can answer any outstanding questions that you may have.
Common MRI Terms And Their Meaning
Lumbar/Lumbar Spine refers to the lower region of your back defined by the area encompassing the lower 5 vertebrae within your spine (L1-L5).
Cervical/Cervical Spine refers to the upper region of your neck defined by the area encompassing the upper 7 vertebrae within your spine (C1-C7).
Thoracic/Thoracic Spine refers to the middle region of your spine defined by the area encompassing the middle 12 vertebrae within your spine (T1-T12).
Herniated Discs as well as a variety of similar terms such as bulging discs, ruptured discs, slipped discs, disc protrusions, or prolapsed discs are one of the most common terms seen on an MRI of the spine. This term indicates that one of the sponge-like discs between your vertebrae has become damaged, allowing the jelly-like inner portion of the disc (nucleus pulposis) to leak outwards. Treatment options may include medication, physical therapy, and steroid injections. Surgery may become necessary if the disc is unable to heal on its own and non-invasive treatments are ineffective at treating symptoms such as back or neck pain, or pain/weakness/tingling/numbness in the arms or legs.
Annular Tear(s) are a condition that occurs when the outer layer of one of your spinal discs has become damaged. On their own, annular tears are very rarely symptomatic and typically heal on their own. Annular Tears may progress into Herniated Discs if the inner material of the disc (nucleus pulposus) is able to leak outside of the disc through the annular tear.
Degenerative Disc Disease is a broad diagnosis typically caused by the gradual wear and tear of the discs between your spinal vertebrae. In many cases this condition will result in no symptoms and will not require treatment, however, loss of flexibility, bone spurs, and pinched nerves can occur as a result of this condition and may require treatment depending on the severity and prevalence of the symptoms.
Spinal Stenosis refers to a condition where the interior spaces within the spine have become narrowed. Spinal stenosis does not always require treatment, although it may be further linked to radiculopathy (nerve root impingement) when it is identified on an MRI. You may also see terms such as Foraminal Stenosis, Lateral Recess Stenosis, Far Lateral Stenosis, and Central Canal Stenosis which all refer to specific types and locations of spinal stenosis. Your physician will be able to provide more information on what treatment options are available for your specific type of stenosis.
Radiculopathy, also known as a nerve root impingement is a wide variety of symptoms caused by a pinched nerve root within the spinal column. Potential causes include herniated/bulging discs, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, and a variety of other conditions. Treatment options include anti-inflammatory/muscle relaxing medication, steroid injections, or surgery.
Vertebral compression fracture: This term indicates that a collapse of a vertebra or a break in the bone has occurred within your spine. This may be due to trauma caused by an accident, or a gradual weakening of the bones within the spine. This condition is also commonly associated with osteoporosis.
Kyphosis/Lordosis: These two terms both refer to an abnormal curvature of the spine. Mild kyphosis or lordosis typically requires no treatment, however severe symptomatic kyphosis or lordosis may require treatments such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, or a spinal fusion.
Sciatica is a type of pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve from the lower back into both legs. Sciatica is typically caused by a herniated disc or bone spur pressing onto the sciatic nerve, and typically only affects one side of the body at a time. Potential treatments include anti-inflammatory and/or muscle relaxant medication, physical therapy, and steroid injections. Surgery may be required if conservative treatment options such as the above fail to provide adequate symptom relief.
Still have questions about these or other terms on your MRI report? Our Free MRI review is a great way to have your individual MRI and report reviewed by our team of physicians who can answer any questions that you have and review what treatment options are available. Get all the details and sign up by here.