What Is the Purpose of Taking an MRI Scan of the Lumbar Spine?

The purpose of taking an MRI scan of the lumbar spine is to treat or better diagnose problems with the spine, explains WebMD. Patients may need an MRI scan if they show symptoms such as back pain accompanied by fever, birth defects affecting the spine, injury to the lower spine, and persistent or severe lower back pain. Other symptoms that may require a patient to have lumbar MRI scan are multiple sclerosis and signs of spinal cancer.

A magnetic resonance imaging scan does not use radiation but uses energy from strong magnets to create pictures of the lumbar spine, explains MedlinePlus. Patients wear a hospital gown without zippers or metal snaps and lie down on a narrow table that slides into a large tunnel-like tube. Some exams require a contrast agent, a special dye, which is typically given through a vein in the arm before the scan. During the scan, the person operating the machine watches from another room. Typically, the scan takes 30 to 90 minutes.

After the test is complete, patients are allowed to go about their day but are advised not to drive if they were given sedatives, explains Healthline. The scanner's film may take several hours to develop.