Lumbar MRI Scans: What Every Patient Should Know

If your physician recommends a lumbar magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examination, you’ll need to complete the process as quickly as possible in order to obtain a diagnosis and start treatment for your condition. However, you’ve probably got some questions about what an MRI entails—is it safe? Will it hurt? Is there any way to reduce the cost without insurance?

First, take a deep breath; lumbar MRI scans aren’t dangerous or painful, and the imaging process is fairly simple. Here’s everything you need to know before scheduling your scan.

MRI Scans of the Spine: Lumbar, Cervical, and Thoracic

A lumbar MRI scan is just one type of spinal MRI. If your physician tells you you need an MRI of the spine, you might ask: Which part?

Radiologists study at least three types of spinal MRI: The lumbar spine, the cervical spine, and the thoracic spine. Each of these imaging studies is a separate procedure, and pricing will be listed for each individually. An MRI scan of the entire spine would actually entail all three procedures, and would be priced accordingly.

The lumbar spine supports the lower back. If you complain of low back pain, then, your physician might order a lumbar MRI to discover the cause of your condition.

When Will My Physician Recommend A Lumbar MRI Scan?

As its name implies, a lumbar scan focuses on the lower spine. A physician will ask for an MRI when a patient reports lower back pain to determine the source of the pain; according to one comprehensive 2015 study, about 7 out of 10 patients who undergo lumbar MRI examinations have abnormal findings (for instance, fractured discs, disc inflammation, or malignant tumors) in their results.

In other words, if your physician recommends a lumbar MRI, there’s a very good chance that the examination will definitively identify the source of your pain. At that point, you can work with your doctor to decide on a course of treatment.

The Typical Process for a Lumbar MRI

During your MRI, you’ll lay on a scanning table, typically for 30-60 minutes. Most MRI machines are narrow, and they’re open on both sides, but some are open on both sides (if you’re claustrophobic, ask about open MRI options prior to your appointment.

If you’ve seen MRIs in popular media, you probably know the drill; you’ll stay completely still while the technician takes images. The process is completely painless, and because an MRI works magnetically—with no ionizing radiation—it’s completely safe and free from side effects. No special preparation is necessary, although you can’t bring any metal objects or electronic devices into the examination. A technician will make sure that you don’t have any implants that could interfere with the procedure.

Depending on your symptoms, your technician may need to use contrast dyes to get a better image. These are either injected or administered orally; side effects are rare, and unless you’re pregnant or you have severe kidney disease, the contrast agent is probably necessary if your doctor recommends it (read our blog about MRI contrast agents here for more information). Contrast agents have mild side effects that usually disappear within a few hours.

If your physician asks for a lumbar MRI scan, there’s a good chance that you’re dealing with significant back pain. Speak with your technician to determine how to minimize pain during the examination. While you may feel uncomfortable laying in one spot for up to an hour, your imaging team should be able to work with you to keep you comfortable.

How Much Does a Lumbar MRI Scan Cost?

Lumbar MRIs can be expensive, particularly for patients who don’t have insurance. Costs can easily exceed $3,000, but pricing varies greatly from one facility to the next.

Get your lumbar MRI scan for as low as $249 INCLUDING the radiologist report! No extra fees or taxes!

At, we partner with the same imaging facilities used by hospitals to offer lumbar MRIs at affordable prices. We’ve assembled a list of qualified facilities that provide fast access to high-quality images. You don’t sacrifice quality of care, and we offer several scheduling options to make the process as simple and inexpensive as is possible.

To get started, click here to find guaranteed prices in your area, or call our scheduling team at 888-322-7785 to book your appointment. You can also schedule your procedure by email; just drop us a note at or visit our contact page to find an affordable lumbar MRI today.

Posted in MRI