Following an injury to the spinal cord, doctors will generally perform imaging tests to determine where the spine has been damaged, as well as the extent of the damage. These tests usually include magnetic resonance imaging, or an MRI. An MRI can be very helpful in determining the level of the injury, which will allow doctors to predict which parts of the body may be affected long-term by loss of sensation or movement.

How an MRI Works

An MRI uses a combination of a powerful magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to provided an extremely detailed picture of the spine, including the vertebrae, disks, spinal cord, and the spaces between the vertebrae through which the nerves pass. The image can be viewed on a computer screen, or printed. The MRI is currently accepted as the most sensitive imaging test of the spine, and outperforms other imaging methods such as x-ray, ultrasound, or the CAT scan.

Limitations of the MRI

The MRI is not recommended for acutely injured patients who require the use of life support equipment or traction devices, as this equipment can not be in the vicinity of the MRI machine. Because images aren’t immediately available it’s a good idea to have more timely imaging done at the time of the trauma, and follow up with an MRI once the acute phase has passed.