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Common terms you might find in your MRI report

If you underwent an MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) of your spine, you would probably have a report with several incomprehensible medical terms. This article will explain the most common terms you will encounter and what their implications are for you, if you find them in your MRI report.
It is important to know that not everything that is described in an MRI report has to be considered as ill. It has been shown that even disc bulges or protrusions can found in many people without any symptoms of back pain [1] and the rate of alterations of the intervertebral discs increases with age including in asymptomatic individuals [2]. Consequently, the occurrence of some disc degenerations during aging can be considered normal.

When your doctor has sent you to an MRI scan, the aim is to find a specific reason for your back pain. However, in about 90% back pain is non-specific [3], which means that there is no specific finding in the MRI scan which can be linked to the pain. In this case chances are high that your back pain will improve with conservative treatment [4]. Degenerative changes of the lumbar spine are commonly present and increase with age irrespective of the presence of low back pain. Therefore, they are not considered a specific reason for back pain as they can be found with a similar frequency also in asymptomatic people.

It is worth mentioning that there is no “pain scan” and no imaging technique (radiograph, CT, MRI, etc.) is perfect. MRI does not involve X-rays and may provide detailed information on the spine. However, often it reveals alteration of the spine which are not relevant for the health and may worry patients unnecessarily. Another, limitations to an MRI scan is that it is taken when lying down, in a position where most people are comfortable. Therefore, it is not a reliable method to reveal any abnormal findings related to a person’s posture or spinal alignment, which can be evaluated best clinically.

So, if you had an MRI scan done, it’s best to talk to your treating doctor, who can explain to you whether the findings in your MRI scan are relevant for your health. The explanation of the terms listed below will give a first orientation.
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EUROSPINE is a society of spine specialists of various disciplines with a large knowledge of spine pathologies. All well-known and accepted treatment modalities for spine pathologies are represented by the members of the society. However, the Society cannot accept any responsibility for the use of the information provided; the user and their health care professionals must retain responsibility for their health care management.
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