ZocdocAnswersWhat is the difference between an MRI and a CT scan of my spine?

Question

What is the difference between an MRI and a CT scan of my spine?

I'm a 31 year old woman and having a CT scan of my spine performed. How does this differ from an MRI? Is one better than the other

Answer

A CT scan uses the same type of radiation as x-rays to gather details about the structures within the body. CT is a very commonly used modality for imaging as it is less expensive and time-consuming than MRI. Generally a CT scan takes less than one minute to actually obtain the images. This technology is particularly good at looking at bony structures (in your case, the bones that make up the backbone), lungs and the intra-abdominal organs (often used with oral contrast). CT of the spine is often used to make sure there are no signs of breaks or other disease within the vertebrae. MRI, on the other hand, does not use radiation, but rather generates images through the use of magnetic forces which act on the atoms that make up the organs and tissues in the body. MRI is generally used to get a better look at soft tissues, which makes it a great way to image the cartilage in joints, muscles, and the spinal cord itself. MRI of the spine is often used when doctors are concerned about pain from a herniated disk or focus of tumor/infection impinging upon the cord or one of its nerve roots, or if there is any other concern about changes within the cord itself.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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