Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the cervical spine is a safe and painless test that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of the cervical spine (the bones in the back of the neck). An MRI differs from a CAT scan (also called CT scan or a a computed axial tomography scan) because it does not use radiation. An MRI scanner consists of a large doughnut-shaped magnet that has a tunnel in the center. Patients are placed on a table that slides into the tunnel. Some centers have open MRI machines that have larger openings and are helpful for patients with claustrophobia. MRI machines are located in hospitals and radiology centers. During the examination, radio waves manipulate the magnetic position of the atoms of the body, which are picked up by a powerful antenna and sent to a computer. The computer performs millions of calculations, resulting in clear, cross-sectional black and white images of the body. These images can be converted into three-dimensional (3-D) pictures of the scanned area. This helps pinpoint problems in the cervical spine when the scan focuses on that area.
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