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Basic Terminology of an MRI Report

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

There is a lot of unfamiliar terminology when it comes to a radiologist’s report of findings regarding the images of your spine. So I will try to make it easier for you to understand what it all really means! Also, please remember that the MRI of your spine will commonly have incidental findings that do not correlate with your subjective report or with our clinical examination. These findings will not be ignored, but treatment for your condition will focus on those findings that diagnose your source of pain.

1) Vertebrae – the bones that make up our spinal column

A. Cervical (neck) – top 7 bones of the spine numbered from top to bottom (C1, C2…C6, C7) B. Thoracic (mid-back)– middle 12 bones numbered from top to bottom (T1, T2…T11, T12) C. Lumbar (low back) – lower 5 bones numbered from top to bottom (L1, L2…L4, L5) D. Sacrum – lowest 5 bones (but fuse into one in normal human development) creating the back of the pelvis/hips

2) Spinal Peripheral Nerves – the nerves that supply motor and sensory function to our body

A. Cervical – C1-C8 B. Thoracic – T1-T12 C. Lumbar – L1-L5 D. Sacral – S1-S5 *Note – the nerve lies directly above its respective vertebra with the exception of the C8 nerve root that lies below the C7 vertebra and above the T1 vertebra **Note – radicular syndromes that produce radiating pain/tingling/numbness can be caused by compression on these nerve roots as they exit the spine due to a variety of reasons

3) Foramen/foramina – a small opening, or a hole

A. Vertebral foramen – the hole through which the spinal cord descends from head to toe B. Intervertebral foramen – the hole through which the spinal peripheral nerves exit

*Note – foraminal stenosis is a fancy term for a narrowing of the hole and can cause compression on the spinal cord or the peripheral nerves **Note – stenosis of the vertebral foramen is usually a more severe condition because it can compress the spinal cord causing bilateral (both sides of the body) symptoms versus intervertebral stenosis compressing the peripheral nerve root usually unilateral (one side of the body)

4) Discs – jelly-like substance that sits between one vertebra and another to maintain proper spacing

A. A disc will usually be named by the two segments it sits between i.e. degenerative disc disease at L4-L5 would be the disc between the L4 and L5 vertebra B. Herniated/ruptured/slipped disc – when the softer, inner portion of the disc protrudes into the tougher, outer layer C. Bulging disc – when the tougher, outer layer extends outside of its normal resting place like a hamburger that is too big for a bun

*Note – it is normal and expected that a disc loses its elasticity and hardens over our life span, but this does not necessarily mean it will cause pain only that your risk for a disk injury may increase


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