How to Read an MRI

A very nice patient came in last week, we will call her Sally.  Sally was having a ton of pain and went for an MRI of her lowback.  An MRI stands for magne….OK who really cares, what we know is it takes pictures of your body using magnets.  Oh by the way, if you have any metal in your body you may want to let the doctor know or things could get ugly.


MRI machine

Back to Sally.  Sally was having pain in her legs and her doctor decided an MRI would be appropriate in order to better evaluate the discs and muscles in her low back.  Seems easy enough right?  Here is an example of what came back…

  • Axial scans at L5-S1 demonstrate moderate facet hypertrophy without disc bulge or protrusion.  The exit foramina and spinal canal are patent.

Contrary to popular belief, I went to school for a long time and I don’t understand what half of these words mean.  What this sentance says in English is:

  • The lowest vertebrae in the spine is showing some degeneration.  The holes with which the nerves pass through are normal.

See that’s not so bad.  I am convinced that health care providers use the big words to justify all the money and time they spent going to school.  Next time a doc gives you an MRI report and you can’t make heads or tails of it, call me.  We can sit down together and go through it…with a big fat dictionary!

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