Cervical MRI scans are used to assess the health of the bones, muscles, nerves and tissue of the neck. It looks at the vertebrae called C1 to C7. The C1 vertebra is at the base of the skull, and the C7 is just above the thorax, above the first set of ribs. There are 8 cervical nerves all of which can become trapped or infected and cause chronic pain or movement problems.
A cervical MRI scan may be used to evaluate or diagnose, spinal birth defects, infections, abscesses, trauma or injuries of the spine, Multiple sclerosis, herniated discs, severe scoliosis, tumours or cancers, degenerative disc disease, neck strain and whiplash. Cervical MRIs are also used to help to determine the underlying cause of chronic neck pain and numbness or weakness of the neck or upper limbs. Patients who have pain in their shoulders may also benefit from a cervical MRI, because some of the nerves in the neck area can affect the shoulder. More recently, MRI scans have started to be used to detect the early onset of arthritis and other diseases that inflame the joints.
Surgeons sometimes use cervical MRI scans to work out the best way to perform a complicated surgery. This is especially the case with tumours that have spread and intertwined themselves into the spine, or with complex spinal injuries. Seeing a 3D image of the operating site helps the surgeon to work out where to make their incisions, and the order in which they will conduct each stage of their surgery.
During a cervical MRI, detailed computer images of sections of the neck's spine, also called the c-spine, are taken. The pictures taken can be stored on computer and be reviewed in more detail at a later date. As well as being compared with later MRI scan images to determine the effectiveness of a treatment, or the development of a disease. A MRI scan is painless for the patient and only requires them to lie still for 30-90 minutes and can provide a fast diagnosis, which can save the patient a lot of suffering and save a lot of money because effective treatment can be immediately provided and effectively monitored.
In some situations, the initial MRI scan is not clear enough, so a dye such as gadolinium is injected into the patient to improve the contrast on the scan. The dye helps the various components of the neck to stand out against each other providing a clearer picture. Contrast dyes are used in about 20% of MRIs. The most common reasons for using a contrast dye on an initial scan is to look for infection, inflammation or cancer. If a patient has a history of cancer or tumours in their body, then even a cervical MRI scan will be done using contrast dyes. When the function of blood vessels needs to be evaluated, a contrast dye is always injected prior to the cervical MRI scan.