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The cervical spine is the part of your spine that runs through your neck. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field and radiofrequency waves to examine the bones of this part of the spine and the soft tissues of your neck.
Most often this type of exam is used to help diagnose the cause of symptoms in the neck, such as pain or stiffness. Your health care practitioner may request this scan if pain hasn’t improved with basic treatment or if the pain is accompanied by numbness or weakness.
MRI is a very detailed type of medical imaging and can show:
A cervical spine MRI may also be ordered before or after spinal surgery.
An MRI scan creates images by exposing hydrogen atoms in water molecules within our body to a magnetic field which controls the direction and frequency at which hydrogen protons spin. A radio frequency pulse is then directed at a specific area of the body, while smaller magnets are used to alter the magnetic field on a small, but localized level. As tissues responds differently to these magnetic field alterations, a computer can convert the data into a picture.
MRI is useful for assessing most body areas and is particularly useful as a sensitive, non-invasive way of imaging the brain, spinal cord, or other areas of the body. Importantly, these images are obtained without a radiation dose to the patient.
An MRI’s magnetic field strength is measured in teslas (T). In Alberta, we offer both 1.5T and 3T MRI services at our Mayfair Place location in Calgary. The highly sensitive images from the 3T machine allow enhanced imaging of many areas of the body, including neurological imaging.
In Saskatchewan, Mayfair Diagnostics provides MRI services at our Regina and Saskatoon clinics.
MRI images are created using a magnetic field, which can attract metal objects or may cause metal in your body to move. This means that before an MRI can be performed all patients will need to be screened to exclude internal metal objects or hardware that are not safe in the MRI. The inside of the MRI scanner can feel small to some people and there are noises caused by changes in the magnetic field, which require ear protection.
For some exams, an injectable dye called gadolinium contrast is administered intravenously to highlight a specific area of interest, or directly into a joint (arthrogram). Targeted body areas will absorb the contrast dye, and will glow on the MRI scan, allowing for a more detailed image. There is a risk of allergic reaction to the contrast agent, so you will be asked about your allergies and other medical conditions when booking your exam.
Your personal medical history will help determine which type of imaging is best suited to diagnose your concern. In determining appropriateness, there are a number of questions you could discuss with your doctor. What are your treatment options? What outcomes could be expected for each option? How do the different types of imaging work? What are the risks? What happens if you don’t have imaging? What happens after your exam?
Once your doctor has identified the need for an MRI, they will send us your requisition (for both public or private exams) and we will call you to schedule your exam and provide you with detailed information to prepare for it.
In Calgary, MRI exams are provided at our Mayfair Place location as private pay exams and are not covered by Alberta Health Care. Prices are per body area. If additional body areas are scheduled within the same appointment, discounts apply.
In Saskatchewan, we offer MRIs as a publicly funded, community-based service under contract with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and as private pay exams at our Regina and Saskatoon locations. Private MRI services in Saskatchewan are provided in accordance with and under the legislation of the Province of Saskatchewan.
Once your exam is completed, your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor. Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 50 radiologists who are sub-specialty trained, which guarantees an expert opinion of your imaging.
For more information, please visit our services page or call our toll-free number 1-866-611-2665.
Healthwise Staff (2021) “MRI of Cervical Spine: About This Test.” www.myhealth.alberta.ca. Accessed March 9, 2021.
Donohue, M. (2017) “Cervical MRI Scan.” www.healthline.com. Accessed March 9, 2021.
Saskatchewan Health Authority (2021) “Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).” www.saskhealthauthority.ca. Access March 9, 2021.