Do MRI Scans Show Nerve Damage?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, scans can show nerve damage, according to WebMD. An MRI of the spine can show damage to the spinal cord and associated nerves caused by both injury and disease. An MRI provides detailed images of soft tissues in the body, including the nervous system.

Because an MRI works by imaging successive small slivers of the area of the body being studied, the images produced provide extreme detail that allows small anomalies on soft tissues, such as lesions on nerves, to be discovered, explains Mayfield Clinic. The soft tissues show up in different levels of brightness in the black-and-white image depending upon the amount of fluid in the tissues. This amount of detail allows doctors to diagnose soft tissue problems from tumors and pinched nerves to traumatic brain injuries and strokes. To enhance the images, sometimes the patient receives an injection of a contrast dye to highlight certain tissues.

When a doctor suspects nerve damage, an MRI is just one of several tests typically performed on a patient, says Mayo Clinic. Depending upon the symptoms a patient reports, other tests to find nerve damage include neurological examination; nerve conduction tests, or electromyography, which examine and record electrical impulses in nerves; and nerve and skin biopsies that look for abnormalities in nerves and nerve endings.