If you suffer an injury, your treating doctors may refer you for an MRI (“Magnetic Resonance Imaging”) to see whether there is any damage to your organs, spinal discs, or soft tissues that may not be visible on X-ray films. So what can you expect? Before the scan can begin, you will be asked to remove all metal, jewelry, watches, hair clips, or similar items prior to the scan. Your technician will ask about any prior surgeries or metal implants you have had undergone previously. When the testing begins, you will be asked to lay flat on a patient table which will slide some or all of your body into the tube-like cylinder of the MRI scanner. Once the scan begins, super cooled electric coils will generate a powerful magnetic field which, combined with radio waves, will show the location and appearance of your soft tissue and fluids.
For its many benefits, having an MRI scan can be uncomfortable to one degree or another. You might feel claustrophobia while lying inside the machine. Your body type may not allow you to lie comfortably and still inside the scanner for the duration of the scan. You might find the knocking sound inside the scanner tube unpleasant (even if you have headphones with music playing). More importantly, in the case of spinal injuries, the “traditional” MRI may not accurately show imaging in the position in which you actually feel pain. For these reasons, you may benefit from an open upright MRI.
First developed in 1996, the open upright MRI (a.k.a. “Stand-Up” MRI) can effectively solve many of the concerns that patients experience in these procedures. In an open upright MRI, a patient walks between two large magnetic imaging devices and either stands, or they can sit in a chair that raises or lowers their body into the proper position. The front and top of the machine are open. The scan typically takes less time than a traditional MRI, and patients might even be able to watch T.V. during the procedure. In many instances, the scans are less expensive than traditional MRIs. But the greatest benefit it offers is the opportunity to recreate the body positions that patients might feel pain, revealing causes of injury that might be undetected on recumbent MRI scanners. For example, if you typically experience neck or back pain while sitting or standing, your scan will take place while your spine has the same weight and gravity it would normally have when you most feel your symptoms. As a result, the scans may show where your spinal discs are compressed or injured in a way that a horizontal MRI might not show as well.
Of course, you will need to consult with your medical provider before deciding on an upright MRI, as there can be drawbacks specific to your situation. Typically, traditional recumbent MRIs have a higher “field strength” or power to their magnets, resulting in clearer MRI results that show greater detail. You definitely want your doctor to have the best quality scans possible in order to provide the best evidence of your injuries. Some insurance plans do not cover upright MRIs. Upright MRI machines are not yet as common as traditional scanners, so it may harder for you to locate one that fits your needs. Lastly, your particular symptoms might be best represented while lying down for a scan, particularly if your pain is greatest in that position (i.e. while sleeping).