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Making Sense of MRI Reports

Definitions of commonly used words in the MRI report


Updated May 23, 2014

MRI reports are filled with complex language and can be difficult to understand. If you are having trouble reading a MRI report, look through the following list of common used words to help your understanding. Also review some common findings of MRIs of the knee.
  • Signal
    A MRI uses a strong magnet to produce an image of the knee joint. For information about how a MRI works, click here. The image that the MRI creates looks black, white, and all shades of grey. This different shade is called "signal." High signal is a white appearing shade, and low signal is a dark shade. The radiologist and orthopedist use these signal characteristics to determine if the appearance in normal or abnormal.

  • Edema
    Edema is another word for swelling and is indicative of injury to an area. Edema is commonly seen around an area that has sustained an injury. Therefore, the structure may appear normal, but the edema may show where the injury is located. Edema may be seen within a bone (a "bone bruise") or within the soft-tissues.

  • Sequence
    MRI machines use different sequences to help show different types of injuries. Common MRI sequences include T1 and T2 images, and sometimes notations such as "spin," "echo," and "STIR," will be used. These don't really matter for understanding the report; rather they are used by the radiologist to communicate which images show a characteristic finding, and how these images were obtained.

  • Bone Bruise
    A bone bruise is an area of bone that has been injured and has swelling, or edema, within the bone. This is a sign that the bone has been injured sufficiently to have inflammation within the bone itself. Specific bone bruises may not require any treatment themselves, but may be a sign of other injuries such as an ACL tear.

  • Anterior or Posterior Horn
    The anterior and posterior horns of the meniscus help the radiologist communicate where in the meniscus he or she sees an abnormality. The anterior horn of the meniscus is in the front of the knee, and the posterior horn is in back. The posterior horn of the meniscus is more commonly injured.
These are just some of the commonly used words in a MRI report. MRI reports are written for the radiologist to communicate with the orthopedist (and other physicians). Without medical school and residency training, it can be difficult to understand these reports, so do not be discouraged! Discuss the MRI findings with your doctor. He or she can explain both what the findings mean, and whether or not the findings are significant.

Keep in mind, the MRI report may indicate findings that are not necessarily "normal," but that does not mean those findings are causing your problem. The MRI must be used in association with the physical examination, history of injury, and other studies, in order to determine a proper treatment plan.

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  5. Finding The Cause
  6. Imaging the Knee
  7. Understanding MRI Reports

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