Read a Low Back MRI Report in 2 Minutes

by Chris Centeno, MD /

One of the things patients ask about is their low back MRI report. There’s considerable anxiety about what the terms mean, and I know, like many physicians, that patients are plugging the terms into their Internet browsers, which I’m sure then only generates more anxiety! So I took the infographic I did a few days ago and fashioned it into a short video entitled, “Read a Low Back MRI Report.” This edition is focused on disc problems.

So How Do the Terms on a Low Back MRI Report Stack Up to Each Disc Type?

We physicians love to use terms that are as opaque as possible. Some of that is because of the complexity of what we’re describing, but some of it is a secret code for the “doctors only” club. This makes it tough for patients, as learning how to read a low back MRI report is often disjointed. For example, you may find a web page that has some terms on it but not others.

So here’s a more comprehensive list:

  • A bulging disc pressing on a nerve—protrusion, protruded, bulging, disc bulge, bulging disc, broad-based disc bulge
  • Herniated disc (the inside gel has squired out)—extrusion, extruded, herniated, herniated nucleus pulposus, disc herniation, disc extrusion, free fragment, sequestered fragment, sequestered
  • Torn and painful disc (that may also be leaking noxious chemicals onto a nerve)—annular tear, high-intensity zone, HIZ, annular fissure
  • Degenerated disc (the disc has collapsed or is in the process of getting there) with bone spurs that could be irritating a nerve—degenerative disc disease, DDD, degenerative disc, spondylosis, decreased disc height, osteophyte(s)

What Do You Do if You Have One or More of These Disc Types?

This week’s disc-type blog focused nicely on that issue, so I’ll refer you there. Suffice it to say that you should avoid surgery at all costs and that there are unique treatments for each of these disc types that use your own platelets or stem cells.

The upshot? Confusion abounds in the world of learning to read a low back MRI report. The terms make little sense sometimes, and there are often many ways to describe the same thing. So take a gander at your report, and if you can find some terms I haven’t classified, post them below and we’ll add them to our list!

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4 thoughts on “Read a Low Back MRI Report in 2 Minutes

  1. Liana Crowe

    Hi Liana,

    I am for Windsor, Ontario Canada and I am looking for information on physician in the this area that would utilize this treatment method of Regenexx.

    Please connect with me.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Liana Crowe,
      Unfortunately, there are no Regenexx providers in Canada, and only the very highly trained Doctors authorized to perform these patented procedures can perform them. But we have many Candadian patients who travel to the US for them. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/trust-regenexx-network-physicians/ If travel to the US is not possible, this will help look for what’s needed to have the best chance of a positive outcome, there. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/orthopedic-stem-cell-treatment/

  2. Monica Tate

    My neurologist wants to refer me to have a discectomy to relieve the L-5 nerve which is being pressed on by the disc and bine spurs. what can Regenexx do to relieve this pain and will the results be permanent or would I need to come in often for repeat injections?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Monica,
      Treating compressed spinal nerves is something we do regularly. https://regenexx.com/blog/lower-back-stem-cell-treatment/ All surgery needs to be evaluated based on whether the long-term positive benefit outweighs the risk. https://regenexx.com/blog/surgery-controlled-damage-accomplish-goal/ For that reason, surgery to remove, replace, etc. should always be the last resort. Bone spurs form as your body’s attempt to stabilize an unstable joint, so correcting the instability is key. Unfortunately, cutting through all that needs to be cut through in a discectomy would increase, not decrease instability. Each case is different and and if you’d like us to weigh in on your particular case to see what your best option would be, please submit the Candidate form to the right of the blog.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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