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Help interpret my mri

mountaingirlmmountaingirl Posts: 8
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:43 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi, newbie, had fusion L4-5 17 years ago & have been having some pain for a few months while doing Hot Yoga & decided to talk to doc about getting an mri. Need help understanding what it's saying. Got a copy of it but have to wait a month to get any answers from neurosurgeon appt. My regular doc didn't want to discuss it with me. Anyway, here goes...Impression: #1. Multilevel degenerative disease most pronounced between L2 & L5 as described with focal disk extrusion and free fragment at L3-4 as described. #2. Findings consistent with incomplete fusion of L4-5, suggestion of motion instability & mild grade 1 anterolisthesis of L4 on 5... It's driving me crazy cause I have to wait so long for an answer. Can any interpret this for me? Not asking medical advice, just want interpretation. Thanks


  • Welcome to Spine Health.

    It is understandable wanting to get some sort of interpretation of your MRI results, however that is something that your provider should do and not other spine patients. The report is only one piece of the puzzle and for anyone here to try and give you an interpretation, is a disservice and potentially dangerous. Spine Health does not wish to have members interpreting, giving their best guess, or any other justification for trying to explain the findings of another member's MRI.

    Please understand this is for your own safety.

    Kindest Regards,

  • What is on the report or films is one thing. The surgeon is more interested in what you are feeling. If they tried to fix everything they see we would all be in surgery forever!!

    Did the surgeons office get a copy of your report directly or are you bringing it with you? If they haven't seen it I would call and ask if you can drop it off because you want to make sure there is nothing urgent. Otherwise I would just try to take it easy and be patient. If there had been anything that could cause permanent damage if not treated immediately the radiologist and your pcp would have gotten you rushed in to the surgeon.

    Good Luck and let us know what happens.
  • I guess I said that wrong. Just want to know what it says in lemans terms. I don't want someone diagnosing me. Sorry, I just want to be ready when I talk to them so I'm not blind going into the conversation. I don't understand the wording & want to be prepared to discuss it when the time comes. Appreciate your feedback & will also check on other links.
  • Gwennie,
    It is suprising to me that you have no medical training as per your quote. You give more medical advice that is quite extensive than anyone else. Where do you find your info? Just curious...
  • An interpretation whether it be in medical jargon or layman's terms, is an interpretation. Trying to be prepared for what your doc may read on your MRI or any images for that matter, is pretty much like a dog chasing its own tail. Round and round in circles until he finally gives up out of exhaustion or boredom.

    As Kris pointed out, docs generally go heavily on what your symptoms are and then see if there's anything to back up his/her evaluation on the MRI. Even looking up basic radiology terms and definitions is like spinning your wheels. The doc may choose to use simple terminology to explain his/her findings. If he/she doesn't then ask him/her too before you ever walk out of the office. It's the doctors responsibility to ensure the patient understands what they are being told.

    The Internet is a great information source. It can make the average person sound like a highly educated scholar. Without substance it is nothing more than words. Your doctor is being paid to turn all of this into something you understand with substance. That's why he/she went to school and why he/she has done years and years of training. Your doctor is your valuable information source.


  • In addition to the forums, there are many informational articles on this website written by medical professionals. There is also a glossary where you can look up terms.

    The more you can learn about spinal anatomy and the various disease processes, the better able you will be to communicate with your surgeon when you do get in to see him.

    For example, most of us have degenerative disc disease, at least to some extent. You can learn about it here:


    Herniated discs are also common. You can read about the various types, including an extrusion, here:


    I wonder why your PCP wasn't willing to give you a general idea of what was found...even if it was just generalizations?

  • I sent you a PM with a bit of information --You might want to stop any of the yoga poses that are twisting your spine until you see the specialists. i would think they are bound to increase your level of pain.
  • j.howiejj.howie Brentwood, Ca., USAPosts: 1,730
    I would do ALL of the research I could. Before going into the surgeons. Not being prepared. And trusting that you will be getting the best surgeon with the best bedside manner is a mistake. Why would you want to get a second opinion, if you really didn't understand the first one?
    Take charge of your medical future. Get all of the information you can. And then try to make an informed decision.
    I don't think there is anyone on this site that would give you a medical opinion. But if someone takes the time to give you a site that is a spine health site. Than it can be trusted and is well worth your time to read it.
    And I think that is what you were asking for.
    Good luck, Jim :?
    Click my name to see my Medical history
    You get what you get, not what you deserve......I stole that from Susan (rip)
    Today is yours to embrace........ for tomorrow, who knows what might be starring you in the face!
  • Mountaingirl is sitting where we all were at one point -- being told that you have back problems so now you need to learn a whole new language. It's scary to not know what is wrong and god knows doctors intimidate most of us.

    I think we need to learn as much as we can before an appt, ask questions during and research what the doc says after the appt. It's not enough to just go to a doctor and say "fix me, I trust you".

    On the flip side of this is that too much info can be a bad thing. We try to self-diagnose using the internet or your mother or neighbor or the guy in the lunch room. You know the saying opinions are like aholes - everyone has one. If you are like my father you read something on the internet and start feeling the pains that go with it. Are they real or do you subconciously want the doctor to diagnose you with the matching disease?

    I am a big believer in keeping a note book with pains, medications and then what the doctor says. It works even though you may feel silly doing it. And if you miss one day don't give up. Just write "opps" on that page and keep going.

    I think everyone will agree that the doctor will ask what hurts and then look at the test results to see what could be causing it. Very rarely do they work the other way around so for anyone to read your MRI and tell you what needs to be done is not right. It might be a guess about what will be the outcome. But you should know what the terms mean. And understand that there are many different words that mean the same thing. Spine health is not an exact science by any means.

    So everyone is right in their advice. And welcome to the world of spine health, before you are done you will probably need stronger reading glasses - lol.
  • Here's another point for your consideration. It has been my experience that some of the highest rated orthopedic hospitals and clinics in the US will NOT make an appointment for a potential spine patient until they have had a chance to review the patient's films.

    They really aren't all that interested in the patient's report of where it hurts. First, they want to see the MRI to see if there is a reason why the patient needs to see a specialist, whether they can help the patient, etc...choose your reason....Kris, if I remember correctly, you went to HSS. Perhaps your doctor did not require this, but I know several of the spinal specialists require a "pre-screening" of films before a patient is allowed to make an appointment.

    I know both the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic first require MRIs and X-rays, as do many of the major university teaching hospitals before they will qualify the potential patient for an appointment. It is just standard protocol.

    Indeed, as stated in several of the above posts, imaging is just one of many pieces of information that is used to make a diagnosis, but it does have meaning standing alone without any patient narrative to go along with it.

    Also, we all know that doctors can read the same MRIs and listen to the same patient history and come to a different conclusion regarding diagnosis and treatment. The more knowledge the patient has, the better he or she is equipped to assess that diagnosis and plan of treatment, weigh it against other opinions and ultimately reach a decision that is best for him or her.

    Back in September I had a positional MRI of my lumbar spine. The radiology report was woefully inaccurate. If I had not had some experience looking at MRIs,and knowledge obtained from discussing them with my physicians and other healthcare providers, I probably would have taken the report at face value and concluded that everything was fine. But because I have chosen to learn all I can about my various spinal issues, I instantly spotted the errors, and knew that I needed to consult with a specialist...because the report was basically worthless.

    Had this MRI been ordered by my family doctor, the chance exists that he might have simply read the report and then reported back to me that everything was fine...and that there was no reason for the pain I was experiencing.

    We are our own best advocate. Without simple knowledge of spinal anatomy, terms used in imaging tests and reports, etc., we are at the mercy of our healthcare provider. Of course the great majority of us didn't begin to learn any of this until we ran up against a back or neck issue. That's why this board is such a valuable place -- it allows people to feel comfortable asking questions of their peers that maybe aren't phrased in a way that uses all the proper medical terms, without fear that it is a "stupid" question, etc. How many times have you asked a question of a doctor, and come away with no idea what he/she was attempting to tell you? This is a common experience we all have. We all can learn from one another without any pressure or fear. To me, it is the sharing of information that is the most valuable aspect of the board....And, in a perfect world, no relevant topic would be off limits.

    Cheers ~
  • Gwennie I wasn't at HSS. I stayed on Long Island because I didn't want the 2 hr each way trip to hospital and docs.

    I hadn't heard that about surgeons wanting to see films first. But I would guess that they are trying to weed out people who they can't help. What I mean is that if you don't have a disk problem or something else that they can fix why bother seeing you?

    If you take the normal course through doctors you should see an orthopedist or neurologist. They should order the MRI or CT scans. If after this and other tests and treatments they feel surgery is an option they would send you on to a surgeon.

    Many people today are self-diagnosing and they want to start with a surgeon. I would guess that these very busy surgeons at big hospitals don't have time to spend with patients who skipped through the process.

    Once again this is where too much info can be a bad thing. If you pick a surgeon who has time open in his schedule you may get a surgery that you might not need.

    I believe you need to learn everything that you can. Vocabulary, tests, specialists, treatments. The more you know the better prepared you are. Keep a written log, take a friend to appts and if you don't like the doc don't be afraid to get another opinion.

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