FAQs


Should I have a MRI if I have pain

Dr. Timothy C. Ryken
Iowa City, IA
You should have an MRI only after seeing a physician experienced and comfortable with diagnosing neck and spine conditions.
Dr. B. Theo Mellion
Carbondale, IL
If you have had pain, numbness and/or weakness that has not responded to conservative measures such as physical therapy or chiropractic care or any significant neurological deficit, then yes you should have a MRI.
Dr. Joseph Alexander
Winston-Salem, NC
For patients with persistent neck or arm pain, they should certainly seek evaluation by their family or primary care physician. Particularly if associated with significant weakness or numbness of the arms or legs, they should seek urgent evaluation. Depending on the nature, severity and length of time that a patient has suffered symptoms, a MRI may be a reasonable imaging study. However, in most cases, neck pain is due to just a simple neck strain or sprain and will usually resolve on its own. It is often not necessary with a first or mild episode of neck pain to immediately obtain an MRI scan. The decision of this, of course, would be up to the examining physician.
Dr. Mark R. McLaughlin
Princeton, NJ
It depends on how long and severe the pain is. If the pain is less than four weeks in duration, it probably would be best managed with observation and medication. Persistent or worsening neck or arm pain does need formal evaluation by a physician as well as neck x-ray and possibly an MRI.
Dr. Brett Taylor
St. Louis, MO
This is best determined by your treating physician. In most circumstances neck pain will resolve without the requirement of extensive treatments and/or imaging studies. The ultimate decision regarding the timing of further imaging studies is based on the opinion of your treating physician.
Dr. Allan Levi
Miami, FL
A MRI scan of the cervical spine should be obtained if the patient does not respond to conservative therapy, the neck pain is associated with significant radiating pain into the arm or hands, or if there are associated symptoms of either numbness or weakness in the hands, arms or legs.
Dr. Daniel Resnick
Madison, WI
The decisions to have a MRI scan should be made by your primary care physician after a careful history and physical examination. Furthermore, unless there is evidence of a significant neurological deficit, allowing the passage of some time is desirable prior to obtaining the MRI scan. The reason for this is that the vast majority of patients with radicular symptoms will improve by themselves without having to have any sort of invasive therapy. Therefore, the MRI scan and whatever findings may be found in the MRI scan would not be necessary and can actually lead to significant confusion in terms of patient therapy. If you are, however, suffering significant weakness or have other demonstrable neurological deficits then MRI scanning should be obtained sooner rather than later.
Dr. Sean Salehi
Chicago, IL
Typically an MRI is not indicated unless the pain extends beyond one month or you have weakness or numbness in any of the extremities.
Dr. Rick Sasso
Indianapolis, IN
Not necessarily. The vast majority of the time the pain goes away on its own. It usually goes away without you doing anything or, if you want to do something, take some anti-inflammatory medicines and rest, basically change your activities, modify your activities, so you are not doing a lot of strenuous things. If you don't get better after a week or so, you may want to call you doctor. And, initially, your doctor will make sure that you don't have any bad signs or symptoms that make us concerned about something more significant going on. If you have neurologic deficits, then he may order an MRI scan, usually first plane x-rays and then an MRI scan. Most of the time, though, an MRI scan is not needed. Very standard non-operative treatment methods are initiated first. But then, if the pain doesn't go away or if it gets worse during those non-operative things, then it may be reasonable to consider x-rays and then an MRI scan.
Dr. Moe R. Lim
Chapel Hill, NC
MRI is an excellent study to directly look at the spinal cord, nerve roots, bones, discs, ligaments, and other soft tissues. The need to order an MRI is determined by your physicians on an individual basis depending on your specific situation.
Dr. Brian Subach
Atlanta, GA
If you have neck pain you should be evaluated by a spine specialist. Plain X-rays and MRI scans can help determine the cause of neck pain.
Dr. Paul Saiz
Mesa, AZ
The vast majority of people will have had neck or low back pain sometime in their lifespan. The vast majority of these pain episodes will improve over time. If pain is persistent and not responding to conservative measures, be it neck pain or arm pain, then typically an evaluation by your primary care physician with a decision to have an MRI should be performed.
Dr. Kambiz Hannani
Los Angeles, CA
An MRI is usually ordered if your pain does not subside in four to six weeks or if there are any significant signs of weakness or bowel and bladder problems. An MRI is an excellent tool for viewing detailed anatomy of the neck. It allows your doctor to give you a precise diagnosis.
Dr. Mark Testaiuti
Haddonfield, NJ
It depends on how long; occasional aches and pains are normal but if neck pain has been present for several days or weeks with the pain extending down to the shoulder and arm, an MRI can be considered. If persistent numbness or true weakness is present, an MRI is recommended.
Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein
New York, NY
If you've had prolonged pain that hasn't responded to conservative measures or any pain radiating into the arm or obviously any neurological deficit then yes, you should have a MRI.
Dr. Paul Saiz
Mesa, AZ
The vast majority of people will have had neck or low back pain sometime in their lifespan. The vast majority of these pain episodes will improve over time. If pain is persistent and not responding to conservative measures, be it neck pain or arm pain, then typically an evaluation by your primary care physician with a decision to have an MRI should be performed.
Dr. Kevin Yoo
Escondido, CA
MRI should not be ordered for anyone with neck pain. If you have experienced trauma, you should first have plain X-rays of your neck and maybe a CT scan if the X-rays are inconclusive or if there is suspicion of a fracture. If you did not experience trauma, you should first be evaluated by a physician or his staff prior to having an MRI. If you have pain radiating down your arm, then an MRI should be ordered.
Dr. W. Christopher Urban
Glen Burnie, MD
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an excellent modality for evaluating bone, soft tissue, and nerve abnormalities. It is often the test of choice for diagnosing problems such as spinal cord or nerve root compression, disc degeneration, infections, tumors or traumatic injury of the cervical spine. Fortunately, most patients only experience neck pain for a few days or weeks that is often caused by soft tissue strain, which does not necessarily require an MRI. When a patient experiences neck pain of longer duration or when one of the previously mention conditions are suspected, x-rays and an MRI assist in confirming the diagnosis.
Dr. Robert S. Pashman
Los Angeles, CA
Your physician will determine if an MRI is necessary. Generally, an MRI is ordered for patients who have failed conservative therapy or have persistent pain in the neck, shoulders or arms, or who exhibit weakness in the arms.
Dr. Jeffrey C. Wang
Los Angeles, CA
The MRI can allow visualization of all of the neurologic elements as well as the bones, soft tissues, as well as discs in the neck region. It is an excellent imaging study. If neck pain persists, an MRI should be obtained to reveal possible sources of the problem.
Dr. Sebastian Lattuga
Rockville Centre, NY
If you have pain in the neck or arm, this can be a symptom of a herniated disc. A MRI is the best test to determine if you have a herniated disc.
Dr. Randy Davis
Glen Burnie, MD
An MRI is a very specific test to determine if there is evidence of a herniated disc or a degenerated disc in the neck. The vast majority of patients can be treated satisfactorily without surgery. For most patients, an MRI is a roadmap for a surgery and I generally will not get an MRI until a patient states that symptoms are severe enough to warrant surgery and they have failed what I would consider adequate non-operative management.
Dr. Theodore A. Belanger
Charlotte, NC
You should not automatically have an MRI if you experience pain. If you have only neck pain, then, generally, an MRI is unlikely to be very helpful. If you have arm or leg numbness, tingling, pain or weakness, then an MRI is reasonable if symptoms cannot be controlled with simple measures and if you are considering surgery.
Dr. Douglas Slaughter
Mesa, AZ
Pain in the neck proper does not warrant an MRI unless the patient also has neurologic symptoms such as weakness in the arms and legs, inability to control bowels or bladder or pain in a single nerve distribution of one arm. Reasons to obtain an MRI include pain that has lasted for greater than six months and is not relieved by conservative care.
Dr. John Peloza
Dallas, TX
It depends on how long you have had neck pain and what the symptoms are. If you have only neck pain, the MRI is not necessarily done within days or weeks of the injury. However, if the neck pain persists over six weeks, and particularly if it persists for longer than three months, then a MRI scan is indicated. In addition, depending on what your physician feels is the cause of your neck pain, a MRI may be needed sooner. If you have severe radicular pain with loss of strength into an extremity, any symptoms of spinal cord compression or myelopathy, or if there is suspicion of a tumor or infection, a MRI is often done immediately.
Dr. David S. Baskin
Houston, TX
A qualified physician should decide this. In general, if there is a single event involving trauma, it is a good idea to have at least an X-ray and often an MRI if there is pain that persists, or if the trauma was severe. If conservative measures fail to improve pain within two weeks, or if there are symptoms or findings suggesting nerve function loss, an MRI is almost always indicated, unless your doctor decides to perform another sensitive test called a myelogram and a post myelogram CT scan.
Dr. Dennis G. Crandall
Mesa, AZ
An MRI provides valuable information about the status of the spinal cord, nerves, disks, and joints in the cervical spine. When abnormalities in these structures are suspected due to the presence of arm pain, numbness or tingling, or severe neck pain, an MRI helps clarify the diagnosis.

The commentary above recounts the experiences of these physicians. Medtronic invited them to share their stories candidly. Keep in mind that results vary; not every patient's response is the same. Talk with your doctor to learn more about any products that are mentioned above.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your doctor's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

Published: May 04, 2007
Updated: April 19, 2010