What is MRI?

What is MRI? What does MRI mean? Where did it come from? And, how does it work?

MRI is a complex topic to condense into layman terms, or to explain to your everyday patient, however, most of us want to know how it actually works.

We all know an X-Ray can show us solid bones within our muscles, tissue, and skin, but how can it be possible to scan the human body for disease, aging or injury?

A Radiographer can tell you what to do when having an MRI, what you may hear, or feel (the latter, you’ll be pleased to hear is – nothing!) but how long has this technology been about and what is it actually doing to your body?

Firstly, what does MRI mean?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging; a medical technology and technique that uses a powerful magnetic field, along with radio waves to form detailed pictures of the inside of the human body.

Where did it come from?

It is a comparatively modern technology, its beginnings only emerging during the year of 1946, discovered by Edward Purcell and Felix Bloch, who were later awarded the Nobel Prize in 1952. On 3rd July 1977, five long hours after the start of the first MRI test, the first human scan was made.

It was then predominantly used for physical and chemical analysis until in 1971, when Raymond Damadian showed that relaxation times of tissues and tumours were different, motivating scientists to use MRI to study disease – both groundbreaking and certainly the reason as to why you’re reading this article today!

How does it work?

MRI can be used to help diagnose or monitor medical treatment by forming pictures of the anatomy and the physiological processes of the body. Most of the anatomy’s tissues are made up of 70-90% water and the MRI method is based primarily upon sensitivity to the presence and properties of water.

The composition and amount of water in tissue can alter dramatically with disease or injury and MRI is the first to confirm this, highlighting unwanted changes that you can’t see from the outside.

Further to this, MRI detects subtle changes in the magnetism of the nucleus, the tiny entity that lies at the heart of the atom. It probes deeper than X-rays, which interact with the clouds or shells of the electrons that orbit the nucleus.

MRI is a non-invasive tool and painless procedure that lasts 15 to 90 minutes, depending on the size of the area being scanned and the number of images being taken. To avoid the images being blurred, the patient must remain completely still throughout the whole of the scan, similar to when you take a photo without autofocus on…

It can be used to examine almost any part of the body:

  • brain and spinal cord
  • bones and joints
  • breasts
  • heart and blood vessels
  • internal organs, such as the liver, womb or prostate gland

Some MRI scans even involve having an injection of contrast dye, allowing certain tissues and blood vessels to show up more clearly during the MRI procedure.

MRI technology is truly incredible – It’s an inner anatomy scan with no side effects to the patient and a quick and clear way of highlighting or monitoring disease, aging or injury.

Find out how we use MRI technology to transfer energy directly into the cells of the tissue we are treating to stimulate regenerative processes, here.


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