Can You See Nerve Damage on an MRI?

If you're experiencing pain in your lower back or neck that radiates into your arms and legs, you may wonder if you have nerve damage. It's important to understand the types of tests you should do and machines you can use to evaluate your condition, including a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Keep reading to learn whether you can see nerve damage on an MRI scan and why it's important to complete this examination as soon as possible.

What Is an MRI

An MRI scan allows doctors to examine soft tissues in your body, including your full spinal anatomy. This imaging method can help a doctor identify the source of your pain and determine the appropriate treatment. MRIs use radio waves, a strong magnetic field, and a computer that relays incredibly detailed images.

Doctors can use MRI results to correlate them with your symptoms and provide you with a diagnosis. With this technology, doctors can see not only your spine but also your spinal cord, vertebrae, individual discs, and the spaces between vertebrae that nerves pass through. Medical professionals may analyze this information on a computer or print out the results for further review. An MRI is the most sensitive imaging test available for doctors to examine their patients' spines.

Can You See Nerve Damage On an MRI?

If you're concerned you have nerve damage, you may want to receive a neurological exam and complete an MRI scan. The results of these two processes can help a doctor determine if you have nerve damage because an MRI can allow doctors to identify structural lesions that are pressing against a nerve and causing pain.

An MRI shows a sagittal view of your spine as if you sliced it from top to bottom. This helps your doctor examine the discs and vertebrae of your spine to identify any issues or irregularities. It can also show an axial view of your spine, which includes cross-sectional images. These pictures show your spinal cord, the surrounding spinal fluid, and the small white channels on either side of your spinal cord. These channels are where nerve roots come out of your spinal cord, so a doctor may want to look at them and see if there are any abnormalities.

What Is Nerve Damage?

Nerve damage, also called peripheral neuropathy, is an injury to a nerve that prevents the brain from communicating with organs or muscles effectively. An MRI can help doctors detect nerve damage caused by various reasons, including herniated vertebral discs, spinal cord fracture or compression, arthritic complications, and tumors that are pressing on a nerve. You'll notice pain from anything that caused compression or trauma to a nerve, which is a sign that you should speak with a doctor and schedule an MRI scan. Symptoms can vary depending on the type of nerves impacted:

  • Sensory nerves: Sensory nerves are responsible for the transmission of information, including temperature, gentle touch, and pain from a cut or scrape. Sensory nerve damage can cause numbness, making it feel like you're wearing socks or gloves, even when you're not.
  • Motor nerves: Motor nerves handle the movement of muscles that you consciously control, including those used for gripping things, walking, and taking. Motor nerve damage can cause muscle weakness, cramps, and muscle shrinking.
  • Autonomic nerves: Autonomic nerves are responsible for controlling organs that act independently of your control, including heart functions, breathing, and digesting food. Symptoms of autonomic nerve damage include heat intolerance and excess sweating.

Some types of nerve damage affect all three nerve fibers, while some only impact one or two to differing degrees of severity.

What To Expect From an MRI Appointment

If you're experiencing nerve damage symptoms, your doctor will likely suggest you schedule an MRI exam to learn more about your condition. Although you may feel nervous about an MRI, this machine doesn't involve any radiation, making it a safer option than other scans you could receive. You don't need to take any preparatory medication before an MRI; after the scan, you can continue with your day without any side effects.

When you arrive at your MRI appointment, the radiologist will ask you to remove any jewelry and external electronic devices since these can interfere with the machine's magnetic fields. If you wear a non-removable metal device, like a pacemaker, it's important to share this with your doctor in advance. The radiologist will then ask you to lay on a table that slides you into a large tube, where the machine will take pictures of your soft tissues while you lay still. This may cause claustrophobia or discomfort, so discuss this with your doctor before your appointment.

Why Is It Important to Detect Nerve Damage?

Although you can't permanently cure nerve damage, it's important to detect it early since it can get progressively worse. However, early detection may allow you to prevent permanent damage and complications. Identifying the condition before it worsens can also help you implement effective pain management techniques. Nerve damage can cause a variety of symptoms and conditions, including numbness and pain that can impact your ability to complete everyday tasks.

Although you may have nerve damage from an unexpected incident, such as a car accident, there are some ways to minimize your risk of developing it. High blood sugar can damage your nerves, causing them to stop sending the correct messages to your muscles and organs. This is why many people with diabetes develop nerve damage. However, blood sugar management can help minimize these risks.

If you're worried you may have nerve damage and want to schedule an MRI exam, it's important to feel comfortable and informed throughout the process. Your health is a serious matter, and you should have a team of medical professionals behind you who you trust. Make an appointment with Grapevine Imaging in Grapevine, Texas, and our team of knowledgeable and experienced professionals will be ready to answer your questions and provide you with the care you deserve.

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Grapevine, TX 76051

(817) 488-9991