By: 11 June 2012

The Newcastle Clinic, which currently houses the only ‘open sided’ MRI scanner in the entire North of England, has revealed that lumbar spine scanning is the most common procedure accounting for more than 25% of its 150 monthly referrals.

The clinic, which receives NHS and private referrals from as far afield as Scotland and Chester, also confirmed that neurological/brain scans account for approximately 20% of all procedures followed by the cervical spine at around 18%.

Liz Storey, imaging manager at the Newcastle Clinic who has been a radiographer for 40 years said, “Lumbar spine scan referrals are increasing as it really is the most accurate yet safe and painless test available. It uses magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed pictures of the lumbar spine (the bones, disks, and other structures in the lower back).

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An MRI doesn’t use radiation, which is one way it differs from a CAT scan. It can detect a variety of conditions of the lumbar spine, including problems with the bones (vertebrae), soft tissues (such as the spinal cord), nerves, and disks.”

An MRI is sometimes performed to assess the anatomy of the lumbar spine, to help plan surgery on the spine, or to monitor changes in the spine after an operation. For example, it can find areas of the spine where the spinal canal (which contains the spinal cord) is abnormally narrowed and might require surgery. It can assess the disks to see whether they are bulging, ruptured, or pressing on the spinal cord or nerves.

MRI of the lumbar spine can be useful in evaluating symptoms such as lower back pain, leg pain, numbness, tingling or weakness, or problems with bladder and bowel control. It can also help to diagnose tumors, bleeding, swelling, developmental or structural abnormalities, and infections or inflammatory conditions in the vertebrae or surrounding tissues.

An average of 3,080 patients in the north east alone are referred for MRI scans each month yet around 10% cannot proceed due to conditions such as claustrophobia, anxiety or because they are simply too large to fit into the confined space of a conventional scanner.

However patients can now request referrals from their GP for an ‘open sided’ MRI scan which offers a radically different experience and more comfortable experience.

The Newcastle Clinic Managing Director, Shaun Fryer said, “The option and benefits of an open sided MRI scanner are not known to the general public. The exceptional technological capabilities of an open sided MRI scanner mean that we can scan patients in much more comfort and still deliver exceptional diagnostic imaging using mid to low field strength. There are only a few areas that we are unable to scan yet around 10% of referred patients could potentially go undiagnosed because they cannot cope with the stress of a closed scanning process. Patients should be more aware that they have a choice.”