A spine MRI can be used to display vertebral anatomy, disk spaces, ligaments, and the spinal cord. Spine MRI can also detect congenital abnormalities or injuries to the spine, explore causes of back pain, and assess tumors. It is also used to plan surgical procedures and monitor post-surgery progress. MRI is the most sensitive imaging test of the spine in a clinical environment. Depending on the symptoms, doctors may order imaging for only part of the spine. Different parts of the spine may require patients to be moved deeper into the MRI machine - e.g., cervical spine (neck) vs. thoracic spine (chest) vs. lumbar spine (lower back). Patients with a history of claustrophobia or fear of small spaces should talk to their doctor about obtaining mild anti-anxiety medications to take before their spine MRI.
During a spine MRI, you will be moved into the scanner head first, on your back. Depending on your exam, we may only image a portion of your spine. If you are claustrophobic, please consult with your doctor to see if they recommend that you take anti-anxiety medication before your exam.
Alberta Health Services does not cover private MRI services, such as spine MRI exams, when performed outside of the hospital. The cost of an MRI of the spine ranges from $600 to $750 per section, depending on the need for contrast.
The need for contrast is determined by the radiologist at the time of imaging if it is determined that it is required for a proper diagnosis. The need for contrast is also impacted by specific patient history.
Sometimes we need to scan multiple sections of the spine for a diagnosis. In this case, the cost of the exam is determined by the number of sections, plus the cost of contrast, if needed. Note that contrast is only charged once, no matter how many sections of the spine are imaged.
Discounts may apply for additional scanned areas done on the same day as the first scanned area.
A spine MRI typically lasts between 30 and 90 minutes. The technologist, who can hear and see you during the exam, will provide you with an emergency button so you can communicate with them throughout the procedure.
Being prepared for your spine MRI helps us take the best possible images for diagnosis. Please visit our exam prep page for more instructions specific to spine MRI preparation.