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How Long Does an MRI Take? A Comprehensive Guide

If you’ve ever suffered from a shoulder, knee, back or other injury, you may be familiar with magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. This type of scan uses powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to capture images of your body. An imaging expert called a radiologist examines these images to help better diagnose a condition and inform potential treatment options.

Advanced MRI scans are valuable diagnostic imaging tools because they provide a clearer, more detailed image of your tissue and joints than other types of scans, such as X-rays and CT scans. A physician order is required for this type of imaging exam, so talk with your doctor about your condition, symptoms and options to see if MRI imaging is the next step.

MRI: The Basics

MRI scans can be done at outpatient imaging centers within a few days. When you go in for your scan, your imaging technologist will work with you to ensure that you know what to expect and are comfortable throughout your exam.

MRI technology captures images of your body by:

  • Generating a powerful magnetic field
  • Aligning the protons in your body with the magnetic field
  • Using radio waves to help identify the locations of protons within your body
  • Using the signals emitted from these protons to generate detailed images of your body

An MRI scan can assess a wide variety of conditions, including tumors, joint and spine injuries, vascular disease, and more with precision.

Factors Influencing MRI Scan Duration

An MRI scan lasts between 30-60 minutes, on average, with longer and shorter scan lengths based on the specific body part being scanned and the type of technology or software being used. Scan times can also vary depending on your diagnosis or the type of condition you have. Based on the type of MRI scan you are receiving, setting up the necessary imaging sequences required for diagnosis. You can help shorten the length of your scan by lying as still as possible.

Typical MRI Scan Duration for Different Procedures

Most types of MRI scans have a range of times to complete your scan. Here is an overview of approximate industry average time frames for common types of MRI scans:

  • Brain MRI: 30 to 60 minutes
  • Spine MRI: 20 to 60 minutes
  • Joint MRI (e.g., knee, shoulder): 20 to 45 minutes
  • Abdominal MRI: 30 to 60 minutes

Read More: What Does a Lumbar Spine MRI Show Your Doctor?

Advanced Technology’s Role in Speeding Up an MRI

Thankfully, new technologies at Carolinas Imaging Service have greatly improved the MRI experience for both patients and providers. The recent addition of ARDL® AI software improves the quality and clarity of images, allowing imaging experts to make assessments more easily. ARDL® also shortens the total amount of time it takes for the machine to scan your body, which means you will spend less time inside the scanner and a shorter time in the imaging center so you can get on with your day.

MRI scan lengths with ALDR® technology shorten the industry averages significantly for many types of MRI scans:

  • Brain MRI: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Spine MRI: 15-20 minutes
  • Joint MRI: 12-20 minutes
  • Abdominal MRI: 30-60 minutes

Setting Up for Success

Preparing for an MRI scan is simple. You should:

  • Take off any metal objects, including jewelry
  • Wear comfortable clothing like a T-shirt, jeans or sweatpants (you may be asked to change into scrubs)
  • Wear as little makeup as possible

Prior to your scan, you may be asked to complete a screening questionnaire to inform your imaging team about any medical conditions, allergies or implants that may affect your scan.

Some types of scans require extra preparation. For instance, if you have an abdominal MRI, you may need to fast for four to eight hours before your scan. You will receive advance instructions if fasting is required for your procedure. Patients without sedation should arrive 15 minutes before the exam, while those with sedation should arrive one hour early. Wait for technologist instructions before taking sedation medications. Sedated patients will need a ride home after any imaging exams.

Read More: How to Prepare for an Upcoming MRI Exam

During the Scan

As you prepare for your scan, it’s helpful to know what to expect. During an MRI, you’ll lie on a table inside a large magnet. A coil sends and receives radio waves around the area being examined, with accompanying noises from the changing magnetic fields (gradients). Our staff will provide earplugs or music to help.

Depending on your symptoms or medical history, you may receive a contrast agent through an intravenous injection, which can enhance the accuracy of the test for medical professionals. The technologist will provide a detailed explanation of this procedure, and you will be provided with hearing protection or headphones to help drown out the sound. If you feel anxious, be sure to let your care team know. We have several techniques to help.

At Carolinas Imaging Services, we offer Open Bore MRI with differing machine specifications. Consult your doctor for the best choice.

After the Scan

Generally, MRI scans require no recovery time. You may resume your normal daily activities once the scan is complete. The radiologist will send a report to your referring provider to help establish a diagnosis or treatment plan.

Understanding Your Results

Your referring provider will share the results with you and will recommend any next steps for your care or treatment. It is possible that you might need additional testing for a diagnosis, in which case your provider may suggest a biopsy or bloodwork, a different type of imaging, or another diagnostic procedure.

Do you have a doctor’s order for an MRI to learn more about an underlying condition? Request an appointment for an MRI scan at CIS.