Lumbar spine MRI Scan

Patient receiving shoulder MRI scan in MRI machine

What is a Lumbar Spine MRI Scan?

A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan makes use of a combination of radio waves and magnets to capture images of the inside of the body. No surgical incision is necessary and it can be performed on any part of the body. Unlike X-ray or CT scans which only visualizes the cortical bones and soft tissues, an MRI scan allows you to see marrow, spinal cord, nerve roots, discs, ligaments, muscles, and blood vessels.

A lumbar spine MRI scan is a non-invasive medical exam that physicians use to assess low back pain, sciatica, lower extermity weakness, and shooting pain (radiculopathy) down one or both legs. It allows a doctor to see if there are disc bulges or herniations, arthritis, injuries, tumors, or nerve abnormalities that may be causing the symptoms and require further attention.

MRI imaging of the lumbar spine is performed to diagnose:

  • Degenerative disc disorders resulting in arthritis
  • Disc bulges
  • Disc herniations (disc protrusions or extrusions)
  • Lumbar spine or sacral fractures which are not visible or hard to see on X-rays
  • Slippage or subluxation of lumbar spine segments (spondylolisthesis)
  • Congenital pars defects and pars fractures
  • Disc infections (discitis)
  • Vertebral body infections (osteomyelitis)
  • Tumors spine and soft tissues
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysms
  • Adenopathy (large lymph nodes) or masses around spine
  • Unexplained back pain with normal x-rays that does not get better with conservative treatment

A lumbar spine MRI scan can quickly and effectively identify the causes of low back pain and radiculopathy and rule out significant abnormalities resulting from work related or sports activities or accidents. A lumbar spine MRI helps your doctor determine the appropriate medical treatment for your pain which may be a rest, physical therapy, oral pain medicine, a pain management procedure such as an epidural steroid injection or nerve root block, or a surgical procedure such as a laminectomy and discectomy.

Lumbar spine MRI with or without contrast?

A lumbar spine MRI scans can be performed with or without contrast. In a lumbar spine MRI with contrast, a contrast agent (a dye) is administered to highlight areas of increased blood flow or inflammation. The contrast agent is injected into a vein in the arm and quickly circulates throughout the body, enhancing the areas of high blood flow.

Though very rare, patients can be allergic to the contrast so it should only be administered if absolutely necessary. Adding contrast to an MRI scan significantly increases the cost so always check with your doctor to determine whether or not it is absolutely necessary. Typically MRI of the lumbar spine is only performed with contrast if there is a suspected mass, infection, or recent lumbar surgery.

At First Look MRI we only perform lumbar spine MRI scans without contrast. If you require a scan with contrast feel free to get in touch and we’d be happy to recommend a trusted facility that can provide this service.

How much Does a lumbar spine MRI cost?

The average cost of a lumbar spine MRI scan in Atlanta is typically around $700, however, the price will depend greatly on your insurance, hospital, and location.

Besides your insurance provider and location, one of the main factors influencing cost will be your insurance deductible. Often insurance deductibles for an MRI scan will be much higher than what you would pay to book one outright. We suggest you do some research and inquire what your deductible would be before making a decision whether to go through your insurance or book a self-pay MRI scan.

At First Look MRI discounts are available for multiple scans, screening packages, and public servants. For more information see our pricing page.

National average
Lumbar MRI cost


Lumbar spine MRI at
First Look MRI


With discounts for multiple scans

MRI with insurance

If you have an insurance plan with a high deductible, your shoulder MRI scan can easily cost you between $1,000 and $2,000, with prices reaching $2,500-$3000 at times. Not only are costs usually higher by going through insurance, but a doctor’s order or referral is usually required, adding even more cost and delaying the process even further.

Due to these high costs, long wait times, the complexity of the booking process, and the lengthy delays for MRI results, many patients prefer to pay cash for their MRI scan.

Cost of a lumbar spine MRI without insurance

Many people think that out-of-pocket or self-pay MRI scans will be very expensive so don’t consider any option besides the insurance route. What most don’t know is that the self-pay route is often a lot cheaper, quicker, and easier than expensive insurance options. For example, a lumbar spine MRI scan from First Look MRI will only cost you $499 and you can usually book for a same-day appointment. You can go from deciding you need an MRI to receiving your results in less than 24 hours.

We only provide MRI imaging services without insurance (self-pay), so the price you see is the only price you’ll pay, with no surprises or hidden costs.

Very pleased with First Look MRI. The front office staff was very accommodating, helpful, and friendly. The waiting room is equipped with a computer, charging stations, and even coloring pages for little ones. They offer complimentary sparkling water and premium coffees and teas to make your wait comfortable. My daughter went right in for her MRI shortly after we arrived and was out about 40 minutes later. Approximately 3 hours after her appointment we received the video image of her results as well as a printed copy of her report. Dr. Gay outlined everything in the video very clearly and in a way that we could understand. I am very impressed with First Look MRI and will definitely recommend them to anyone who needs their services.

Tonya Williams

Tonya Williams

2 months ago

My visit to First Look MRI was nothing short of amazing! From the moment I walked through the door, the level of professionalism was impeccable. The facility was clean and the courteous staff helped reduce my anxiety. Dr. Gay provided his results in record time. He was very thorough in his explanations, which was much appreciated. The video included with the results was incredible! I highly recommend First Look MRI. They will not disappoint. The entire process from scheduling to results was seamless and the pricing was extremely affordable compared to others. Thank you Dr. Gay and First Look MRI! I will be sending people your way.

LaQuanda Prince

LaQuanda Prince

4 months ago

Lumbar spine MRI results and video report

The first question most people ask is, "how long does it take to get results from my lumbar spine MRI scan?" You'll want to receive your results as quickly as possible to present them to your doctor and we’ve got you covered. First Look MRI delivers reports via secure email within 24 hours, and in as little as 90 minutes with our STAT option.

Not only will your MRI scan results be delivered quickly, but you won’t have to know how to read an MRI of the shoulder or necessarily return to a doctor, as an experienced radiologist will send you not one, but two reports. One will be a technical, written report for your doctor, while the other will be a video report in simple-to-understand terms so you can know right away if something requires further attention.

Your MRI video report

With your First Look Video Report™ you will get detailed findings of your shoulder MRI scan explained in simple, non-technical terms so that you, the patient, can understand any possible issues and take control of the next steps. You will be able to decide if you want to pursue further medical diagnosis or treatment and have a good idea of the cause of any pain or symptoms.

By not billing insurance providers First Look MRI is free to innovate and our MRI scan video report is a great example of how we want to change the medical services world by giving more power to our patients.

Watch a sample of our
personalized video reports

Lumbar spine MRI scan procedure

Below is a brief explanation of what to expect during your lumbar spine MRI scan:

Before the scan

You may eat or drink anything you like before your MRI scan as it will not affect the results in any way.

If you are claustrophobic or experience pain when lying on your back for more than 30 minutes, you can ask your doctor to prescribe you pain or relaxation medication.

Before you enter the room for your MRI exam you’ll need to remove all items from your pockets as well as any metallic objects you may have on you. This can include shoes, belt buckles, jewelry, dentures, bras with metallic clips, or clothing with zippers. MRI machines use extremely strong magnets so all metal objects are forbidden. You may be asked to change into a hospital gown if you are wearing clothing with metal zippers, rivets, or buttons. We provide a locker in which you can store your clothing and valuables while you’re inside the scanner.

During the scan

During the lumbar spine MRI scan, the scanning table will slide your lower body into the magnet. You will be asked to keep perfectly still and breath evenly. Coils (special devices that capture the signal needed to create the images of the specific body part) will be placed behind or around your low back.

During the scan you will not feel anything but will hear intermittent humming, thumping, clicking and knocking sounds.

The lumbar spine MRI exam takes approximately 30-45 minutes and the technologist will always be able to see and hear you throughout. If you experience any discomfort or prefer to pause/cancel the scan you will be able to communicate this easily and it will be done immediately.

After the scan

When the scan is complete, you can resume your normal activities and even drive home, provided you haven’t taken any relaxation or pain medication. If you have taken relaxation medication you will need someone to drive you home.

Your MRI results, along with your video report, will be emailed to you and to your doctor (if you have requested we do so), within 24 hours.

We always welcome patients who want to visit any of our locations before booking a scan to see if they feel comfortable with the space inside the machine. Please feel free to drop in anytime or give us a call to see the machine yourself and we’ll be happy to let you test it.