What is an MRI scan?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scanning) is a modern radiological procedure in which pictures of the human body are generated using magnetic fields and radio waves without the use of X-rays. The detailed images of anatomical structures revealed by an MRI scan allow doctors to make a precise diagnosis by identifying the smallest changes to these structures.

Open MRI scanners open up new horizons for pain patients with interventions that produce high-quality imaging without ionising radiation.

Dr Marc Dehos, DSD

Indications for an open MRI

An open MRI scan is suitable for imaging any cross-section of the spinal column (cervical/thoracic/lumbar spine) and pelvis, as well as all large proximal joints such as the shoulders and hips. It is also suitable for imaging the elbows, wrists and hands, the joints in lower extremities such as the knee and ankle (including the Achilles tendon), and the entire foot. Children and patients with claustrophobia in particular benefit from the stress-free, relaxed experience offered by an open MRI.

A scan with ionising X-ray radiation is not used and the scan does not take place in the conventional ‘tunnel’ but in a system that is open at an over 300° angle.

Visit the Hitachi’s AIRIS website

AIRIS Vento by Hitachi with young patient and mother
Patient in the AIRIS open MRI scanner from Hitachi
AIRIS MRI by Hitachi
AIRIS MRI from Hitachi
LWS saggital
Left: sagittal section of lumbar spine shows a slipped disc at L5/S1; right: axial section of the same patient at L5/S1

Preparing for an MRI scan

Before the scan, any mobile phones, watches, purses/wallets, bank cards, glasses, jewellery, metal objects, hearing aids, prosthetics, etc. need to be removed so that imaging and picture quality is not affected.

In some cases, patients will need to be given a contrast agent to improve the level of detail in the picture: this is generally well-tolerated and does not cause kidney problems. In such a case we however recommend that you have your creatinine level determined for your own safety. Please speak to your general practitioner about arranging a blood test prior to the examination.

Scanning procedure

At DSD, we use a modern, open MRI machine from Hitachi for our scans. The scan typically takes around 20 to 30 minutes, involves no X-rays or painful procedures, has no known side effects and does not cause claustrophobia because of the open design. During the scan, you will hear faint knocking noises. It’s important that you stay very still during the scan, since movements will produce blurring in the image.

The joint /organ area to be scanned is usually inserted into a small coil to increase the quality of the final image.

If you experience a problem with how you are lying in the machine, with the coil or with the level of noise you are hearing, you can signal or talk to us at any time and we will interrupt the scan to help you if necessary.

The results of your scan are saved in a digital format and can be provided to you as a physical printout as well as on a CD.

Your health is precious – we help you to protect it.

Professor Jürgen Fischer, DSD


An open MRI scan cannot be performed if you have a pacemaker, defibrillator or insulin pump fitted, or if you have a cochlear implant or an implanted neurostimulator. Other exceptions include having metallic particles from an injury anywhere in your body, especially the head area.

Before each scan, you need to complete a form so we can advise you of these exceptions (known as ‘contraindications’) and ensure that the procedure is safe for you.


waiting area

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

1. What happens during the procedure?

Answer: Unless your doctor has told you otherwise, no special preparation is required before your MRI. You simply lie down on the machine and are given ear muffs to wear that help block out the noises heard during the scan. While the scan is running, you will hear various ‘knocking’ noises. Although these may be irritating, they are entirely harmless. To ensure high-quality images are generated by the scan, you should lie as still as possible during the procedure. For some types of scan, you may also be asked to hold your breath briefly. You may also need to be given a contrast agent, which will be injected into a vein in your arm. You can talk or signal to medical support staff at any time during the procedure.

2. How long does the procedure take?

Answer: An MRI scan generally lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. These times can vary, however, depending on the type of scan.

3. Is an MRI scan safe?

Answer: An MRI scan is a very safe type of medical procedure. In addition, each MRI scanner is routinely inspected to ensure your safety as well as consistent, high-quality images. However, you should always remember that an MRI works by using a strong magnetic field. Accordingly, you should always inform your radiologist if you have had an electronic device (such as pacemaker, insulin pump, etc.) or any metallic implants or foreign objects (artificial heart valves, etc.) implanted in your body. You should also inform your radiologist before your scan if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

4. Do I have to lie still during the whole procedure?

Answer: To obtain sharp, high-quality images, it is very important that you stay still. An MRI scan usually lasts between 15 and 20 minutes, and is made up of several parts (‘sequences’). The medical support staff will let you know when and if you can move during the scan.

5. I am overweight – will I even fit inside an MRI scanner?

Answer: The ‘tunnel’ of a conventional MRI scanner can often feel cramped for overweight patients in particular. Modern medicine now fortunately offers an alternative: comfortable MRI scanners that are open on all sides. These open MRI scanners also feature a wide and comfortable patient table to lie on, which is also suitable for heavier people.

This is a big plus for young patients, because having a parent in the room with them can make children feel safer and more secure.

6. What happens if I get claustrophobic?

Answer: There are two kinds of MRI machines: conventional MRI scanners consist of a closed tube or ‘tunnel’, into which the patient is moved during the scan. However, open MRI machines are now available, which are much more comfortable for the patient. Because these scanners are open at the sides, patients feel less ‘closed in’ and therefore more at ease. Open MRI machines offer the best of both worlds in terms of patient comfort and image quality.

7. Why is it so loud during the scanning procedure?

Answer: During an MRI scan, magnetic fields are switched on and off very quickly, one after another. This causes vibrations, which produce the characteristic MRI ‘knocking’ noises. These noises are normal and can always be heard during the scan. To protect your hearing, you are given ear plugs and/or ear muffs.

8. Can I bring someone with me into the scanning room?

Answer: During the scan procedure, help is at hand from medical support staff, and you can chat to them at any time using a microphone and speaker system. You are also given an alarm button, which you can simply press if you feel unwell at any time. If you choose an open MRI scanner for your scan, you can also have someone with you in the room during your MRI scan. This is a big plus for young patients, because having a parent in the room with them makes children feel safer and more secure.

9. Does my child have to have an anaesthetic if they need an MRI scan?

Answer: It depends: in the conventional ‘tunnel’-style MRI scanners, it’s often normal to give children an anaesthetic to ensure that they stay still during the scan. Fortunately, however, open MRI scanners are now available: because these machines are open on all sides, the child’s parent can be there during the procedure and hold the child’s hand for example. This is usually enough to keep young patients calm – making an anaesthetic unnecessary.

10. When do I get the results?

Answer: A radiologist will evaluate your results and make a diagnosis. Please ask the MRI centre for details of when you will receive your results. Usually, you will be given the results immediately after the scan. Occasionally, however, the doctor responsible for performing the scan will send the images results and a medical report to your referring doctor. Your attending doctor will then discuss these results with you in detail.