MRI of the cervical spine (or MRI of the cervical spine) is a safe and painless imaging test that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to be able to produce detailed images of the cervical spine and which serves in the diagnosis of various pathologies of the cervical spine. the first section of the spine.
What is MRI of the Cervical Spine
MRI is one of the most requested and safest examinations in the field of imaging, as it uses radio waves and a machine equipped with powerful magnets capable of producing hyper-detailed images of your body. In particular, a cervical MRI scan focuses on scanning the soft tissues of the neck area and the cervical spine, which is the part of the spine that crosses the neck.
CT and magnetic resonance are two very different types of examinations, not for the images they produce but for the techniques used. An MRI differs from a CT (computerized axial tomography) in that it does not use ionizing radiation. The machine used for magnetic resonance is made up of a donut-shaped magnet that has a tunnel inside. When you have to undergo this type of procedure, the bed on which you can lie down will pass through this tunnel. In several private clinics and hospitals, there are open MRI machines, which therefore have larger openings and are useful for patients suffering from claustrophobia.
How does MRI work?
During the examination, the radio waves emitted by the machine manipulate the position of the body’s atoms, which are detected by a sort of antenna and sent to a computer-managed by the radiology technician. The computer then processes transversal black and white images of the body, which can, in turn, be converted into three-dimensional images of the cervical spine, in this case.
In what diagnoses serves cervical MRI
It is generally used for:
- evaluate the anatomical conformation of the cervical spine and the presence of pathologies;
- understand how to proceed in case of surgery in the cervical area;
- post-operative monitoring of the spine;
MRI of the cervical spine can be helpful when symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness occur in the limbs, shoulders, or neck, and can help diagnose various chronic nervous system disorders.
As for diagnosable diseases, magnetic resonance imaging of the cervical spine detects :
- bone or soft tissue tumors;
- the presence of hernias;
- aneurysms, which are a result of swelling in the arteries or other vascular disorders in the cervical area;
- other soft tissue diseases, joint disorders, and bone abnormalities.
How to prepare for this type of exam
An MRI of the cervical spine usually does not require any kind of special preparation. However, the technician will certainly ask you to remove all metal objects from your body (such as glasses, jewelry, and piercings) because they can compromise the functioning of the machine and produce images that are not clear and therefore not analyzable. However, this does not apply to all types of metal inserts, for example, orthodontic appliances and dental fillings will not interfere with the success of the exam.
Furthermore, you may be asked by a doctor if there is the possibility that you have metal inserts inside your body to understand how to calibrate the machine and if it is appropriate to proceed (as we will see further down, for example, in the case of implantable devices).
To obtain the highest quality MRI results, it will be essential to remain still during the duration of the exam. In case of inability to remain still or if you were to suffer from a disabling form of claustrophobia, it may be possible to opt for light sedation according to the needs of the patient.
Contrast medium and sedation: what to expect
If sedation is required, food and fluid intake should be stopped for a few hours before the MRI to allow the stomach to empty. In any case, it is important to inform the radiology technician and radiologist of any disease, allergy, but also previous reactions to drugs or in the case of female patients, if there is a possibility of pregnancy (even if the MRI is safe for the fetus).
Sedative medications are usually administered intravenously. Similarly, if there is a need to perform an MRI of the cervical spine with contrast, this will be administered intravenously.
To detect specific problems, therefore, you may need the administration of a contrast agent (which is nothing more than a dye agent) through a drip.
Tell the radiology technician or radiologist if you are allergic to drugs or foods before proceeding with the administration of the contrast medium. The contrast agent used in this type of test is generally safe, however various allergic reactions can occur. If you have any doubts about this, you may find it necessary to carry out preliminary analyzes before undergoing the MRI.
What happens during an MRI of this type
During the procedure, you will be alone in the room, but do not worry: there will always be a microphone and a speaker through which you can communicate any concerns or discomfort to the radiology technician.
Unlike ordinary x-rays and CT scans, MRIs do not use radiation, which means that there will be no chemical changes in the tissues being analyzed. As soon as the procedure is finished, the hydrogen atoms that are attracted to the machine return to their normal alignment, while during the examination they will emit different amounts of energy based on the type of body tissue they are in. The machine captures this energy and creates a three-dimensional image by reprocessing this information.
In most scanners used in magnetic resonance, the magnetic field is produced by passing an electric current through particular types of coils. Other coils are found inside the machine itself and, in some cases, are positioned around the part of the body to be filmed. These coils send and receive radio waves, producing signals that are detected and reprocessed by the machine. Among the main advantages of using this procedure is the fact that magnetic resonance can distinguish much more accurately the diseased tissue from the healthy tissue, in a more detailed way than the techniques that make use of X-rays such as CT and radiographs.
Duration of a resonance of the cervical spine
Regarding the duration of an MRI of the cervical spine, this usually takes about 30-45 minutes to complete.
To further improve the stability of the neck, you may be provided with a special tool that can be placed just above the neck. After that, the table on which you will be lying will slide into the tunnel and the technician will take pictures of the neck. Each scan will take a few minutes.
As the exam progresses, you may hear sounds from the machine, which are completely normal. In addition, in the machine, you will always have access to a call button in case you have particular discomfort during the test. If sedated, you will be constantly monitored by healthcare professionals and connected to a machine that monitors your heart rate, breathing, and oxygenation.
Once the exam is finished, the technician will help you get off the table.
Risks of an MRI of the cervical spine
Generally, there are no special risks associated with MRI.
Although there is no reason to believe that MRI will harm the fetus, pregnant women should not have an MRI exam during the first trimester unless it is necessary and you cannot opt for other types of tests.
The magnetic field produced by the scanner is extremely strong. This means that it could interfere with various implantable machines inside our body making the procedure not recommended, especially in the presence of:
- metal plates and screws;
- pacemakers, cardioverters, and defibrillators;
- piercings that are difficult to remove;
- an intrauterine coil that contains metal;
- devices for administering and releasing insulin in diabetic people;
- coronary stents and aneurysm clips;
- fragments of bullets and metal splinters;
- hearing aids;
In addition, in the case of patients suffering from obesity, it may not be possible to carry out an MRI scan due to the weight limits indicated for the use of the machines.
A very irregular heartbeat can affect image quality. This is because some imaging techniques use particular tools to calibrate the machinery based on the activity of the heart, giving the possibility to obtain always clear images.
DOCTOR AND PATIENT ANALYZE A X-RAY OF THE CERVICAL SPINE
Cervical MRI: How long does it take for the results to arrive
The magnetic resonance images will be examined by a radiologist, who will determine the presence of any pathologies. After that, she will draw up a medical report to explain what has been highlighted. In most cases, the results cannot be provided directly to the patient or family at the time of the test but need to wait up to five working days.
How much does a cervical MRI cost?
MRI typically costs more and can take longer than other imaging methods. MRI of the cervical spine, however, is one of those tests that can be obtained under a doctor’s prescription. Generally, for an exam of this type you can decide to proceed either by paying the ticket provided by the SSN (National Health System) or by opting for a reservation at private facilities, which today offer various agreements with the ASLs.
The payment of the ticket for an MRI is to be staggered according to the family income of the patient who has to undergo the examination.
With the tickets provided by the national health system, the expected price for an MRI of the cervical spine starts from a minimum of € 36.15, while the maximum expense (which can also be determined based on the Regions and the city where you reside) is 76. €.
In any case, the payment exemption is envisaged for the lower income brackets.
In private clinics, however, there may be an increase in the expected costs for an MRI of the cervical spine, with prices reaching peaks of over € 750, established based on the complexity of the area to be scanned. Even if you opt for this solution, however, there may be a price reduction based on your membership income.