Both X-ray and MRI imaging serve their individual purpose in diagnosing spinal conditions. We find a large proportion of our patients have had an MRI, and it can often be presumed a more superior form of imaging. Although X-rays may seem to provide very basic information on the body, they can actually provide insightful information on the spine’s positioning and overall condition. Which is why X-rays tend to be our imaging of choice over an MRI. The image below show two x-rays taken six months apart of one of our patients. The green line represents the ideal curvature of the spine, while the red tracks the alignment of the patient’s spine in comparison. They show a measurable, structural change in the spine after having treatment for six months with The Mayfair Method.
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MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and is a scan that uses a strong magnetic field in combination with radio waves to make an in-depth picture of the inside of your body. These can be performed almost anywhere on the body. Most of the body is comprised of water molecules, made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Inside each of the hydrogen atoms of the body is a proton particle that all start to align with one another when they are subjected to a strong magnetic field. The magnetic field and radio waves work together to form a comprehensive image of the body. Unlike X-rays they don’t pose any potential risks to the body and the process has been found to be completely harmless.
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X-rays work much quicker than MRIs and can be done within a matter of minutes, producing an image of bones in a targeted area. X-rays are a form of radiation and form an image as the x-rays pass through the body at different speeds. It’s quite common for patients to be concerned with the amount of radiation they receive having X-rays, but the risk of cancer from radiation exposure of X-rays is very small. The benefits are always compared against the risks when recommending if a patient should have an X-ray, which is why there are certain criteria that need to be met when a patient comes in for an examination to see if X-rays may be necessary for them. Often a patient may also have had an X-ray in the past, but may have been done lying down. This is very common practice, but is not showing the true alignment of your spine while you’re standing and the impact that gravity has on your spinal positioning.
Standing X-rays provide us with a clear picture on the alignment of your spine, which is something we can visually analyse using our specialised software in order to compare your spinal alignment to the ideal. There is an ideal position in which our spines should be aligned in order to effectively distribute weight and forces of gravity throughout the body. If your spine is out of alignment, which can happen over time if you consistently have bad posture. The most common areas we experience issues with in the spine are the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) areas. On a daily basis, particularly if you have a desk job and tend to slouch, or if you have a very physically demanding job, these can make you susceptible to experiencing spinal issues in the future. Once you lose the ideal alignment in your spine, more delicate areas of the spine have to bear more weight than they would normally. This can lead to an increased rate of degeneration in the spine that can cause disc compression, loss of disc height and eventually bulging discs. Sadly the damage may also not end there: beyond bulging discs can occur conditions like spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal cord usually caused as a result of a bulging disc or bone spur growth. While that takes spinal damage to the extreme, poor posture on a daily basis, for example slouching at a desk, can cause you to experience tight upper back muscles and regular headaches as a result of the nerves being compressed at the base of the skull.
MRIs can often be seen as superior especially in cases of a disc problem because they actually show the discs, and even inflammation, on their imaging. But in reality, MRIs can only confirm what was already suspected given the symptoms a patient is experiencing or from X-rays. MRIs are generally used if a patient may be a candidate for surgery so provide information that surgeons find helpful going into an operation. In comparison, we have very rarely referred a patient for an X-ray and not learned anything new or useful – even if the case of patients who have had MRIs prior to a visit to the clinic. MRIs are also largely done lying down 99% of the time, which just like normal X-rays does not show the true stresses that being upright has on the body. If a patient who has recently had an MRI this doesn’t mean that they may not benefit from having X-ray imaging, in fact we’ve found we have received beneficial information that has helped us to prescribe specific rehabilitation work.
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In summary, although an MRI may feel like a natural next step if you’ve visited your doctor with back complaints. Invariably, if you visit a spinal expert like an Osteopath or a Chiropractor, they will rarely refer a patient for an MRI as in most cases it’s used purely as a way to confirm something that is already strongly suspected. If we consult with a patient who is experiencing symptoms that might indicate disc compression, they may present with symptoms such as pain when sneezing, pain, weakness, tingling or pins and needles in the fingers or toes, or you may also feel generally compressed like you may need to stretch yourself out multiple times during the day (just to name a few). In any case we see a patient present with symptoms that might be related to disc compression, using our orthopaedic testing and X-ray imaging if necessary, we would most likely be able to deduce this. You will also be able to identify reduced disc space on a normal X-ray because certain vertebrae will be closer together than normal, which would tell you there’s likely to be a degree of disc compression present.
To book your first appointment, or to speak to one of our experts, call 0203 947 3222 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.