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What You Need to Know About Cervical MRI Exam

A cervical MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses energy from strong magnets to create images of the part of the spine that passes through the neck area (cervical spine).

MRI does not use radiation (x-rays).

The MRI images alone are called slices. They can be stored on a computer or printed on film. An exam produces many images.

You can book your MRI through online websites by searching MRI near me on google and you’ll be able to find the best clinics for MRI.

How the exam is conducted

You will wear a hospital gown or clothing without metal snaps or zippers (such as sweatpants and a T-shirt). Be sure to remove your watch, jewelry, and purse. Some types of metal can cause blurred images.

You will lie on a narrow table that slides into a tunnel-shaped scanner.

In some tests, a special dye (contrast medium) is used. Most of the time, you will receive the dye through a vein in your arm or hand before the test. The dye can also be given through an injection. This contrast medium helps the radiologist see certain areas more clearly.

During the MRI, the person operating the machine will watch you from another room. The exam almost always takes 30 to 60 minutes, but it can take longer.

Exam Preparation

You may be asked not to eat or drink anything for 4 to 6 hours before the test.

If you have a fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), tell your healthcare provider. You may be given medicine to help make you sleepy and less anxious. The provider may recommend an “open” MRI, in which the machine is not as close to the body.

Before the test, tell the provider if you have:

  • Brain Aneurysm Clips
  • Certain types of artificial heart valves
  • Defibrillator or cardiac pacemaker
  • Inner ear (cochlear) implants
  • Kidney disease or dialysis (you may not be able to receive the contrast dye)
  • Recently placed artificial joints or implant surgery with screws and plates
  • Certain types of vascular stents
  • You have worked with sheet metal in the past (you may need tests to check for metal particles in your eyes)

Because the MRI equipment contains strong magnets, metal objects are not allowed in the room where the scanner is:

  • Pens, knives, and glasses can go flying across the room.
  • Items such as jewelry, watches, credit cards, and hearing aids can be damaged.
  • Pins, hair clips, metal zippers, or other similar metal items may distort images.
  • Removable dentures should be removed just before the exam.

What will it feel like during the exam?

An MRI does not cause pain. You will need to stay still. Excessive movement can distort MRI images and cause errors.

The table may be hard or cold, but you may request a blanket or pillow. The machine makes loud noises or hums when turned on. You can use earplugs to block out noise.

A room intercom allows you to talk to someone at any time. Some MRI teams have televisions and special headphones to help pass the time.

There is no recovery period unless you have been given medicine to relax you. After an MRI, you can return to your normal diet, activities, and medications.

Reasons for the exam

The most common reasons for this test are:

  • Severe neck, shoulder, or arm pain that does not get better after treatment
  • Neck pain along with leg weakness, numbness, or other symptoms

A cervical MRI may also be done to:

  • Birth defects of the spine
  • Infection involving the spine
  • Injury or trauma to the spine
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • severe scoliosis
  • Tumor or cancer in the spine
  • Arthritis in the spine

In most cases, MRI works better than CT in diagnosing these problems.

A cervical MRI may also be done before spinal surgery.

Normal results

A normal result means that the part of the spine that passes through the neck and nearby nerves appears normal.

Meaning of abnormal results

The most common reasons for an abnormal result are:

  • Herniated or “slipped” disc (cervical radiculopathy)
  • Narrowing of the cervical spine (spinal stenosis)
  • Abnormal wearing away of the bones and cartilage in the neck (cervical spondylosis)

Abnormal results may also be due to:

  • Degenerative changes due to age
  • Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
  • Disc inflammation (dischitis)
  • spinal cord infection
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injury or compression
  • spinal fracture
  • medullary tumor
  • growth abnormality

Talk to your provider about your concerns.


MRI does not contain radiation. Side effects from magnetic fields and radio waves have not been reported.

It is also safe to have an MRI during pregnancy. No side effects or complications have been shown.

The most commonly used type of contrast medium (dye) is gadolinium. This one is very safe. Allergic reactions to this substance are rare. However, gadolinium can be harmful to people with kidney problems who require dialysis. If you have kidney problems, please tell the provider before the test.

The strong magnetic fields created during an MRI can cause cardiac pacemakers and other implants to not work as well. They can also cause a piece of metal inside the body to shift or change position. For security reasons, please do not bring anything containing metal into the scanner room.

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