Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a diagnostic technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed image of the body’s soft tissue and bones. An MRI images the spine by using a magnet that goes around the body to excite hydrogen atoms.

After the atoms return to their normal level of excitation, they emit energy that is detected on a scanner. An MRI scan is generally considered to be the single best imaging study of the spine to help plan treatment for back pain. They are typically used for pre-surgical planning since the scan is extremely sensitive to information about the health of discs as well as the presence of tumors or a herniated disc.