What Is the Difference Between an MRI, CT or X-Ray?

At St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we handle a wide range of injuries which have been caused by someone else’s negligence. One of the immediate things to do if you have been injured is to seek medical attention. Many times, if you or a loved one is injured, let’s say in a car accident, and get taken from the scene to the hospital; the hospital will conduct a battery of tests. If there is suspected trauma to a specific part of the body, the hospital staff may order imaging studies of the suspected injured body part.

The most common types of imaging studies are X-ray’s, CT scans and MRI’s. Each type of imagining study has its pros and its cons. If you were not immediately taken to the hospital, but instead followed up with your primary care provider or urgent care clinic, they may not immediately order imaging studies and opt for a more conservative approach of monitoring your symptoms and decide whether imaging studies are necessary.

In the injury cases that we handle at St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, imaging studies are of paramount importance. A high quality imagining study gives the legal team at St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas the objective evidence of injury which we can then leverage with the insurance company to pay for your injuries, resulting pain and ensuing damages.

So what is the difference between an X-ray, MRI and a CT scan? We have created this comparison to help give you easy access to information about the imagining studies you may already have had or have been recommended to receive and why it is that they are critical to a successful personal injury claim.

X-ray

Most people are familiar with the term “X-ray” but may not be familiar with what they are good for and why sometimes X-ray’s don’t show the actual injury. X-rays can also be known as Radiography and are a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves. They are quick, painless and generally don’t cost as much as other imaging studies.

The electromagnetic waves pass through the body during an X-ray. These waves are absorbed in different amounts by the various materials in your body resulting in a black, grey and white image. The more dense the material, the whiter the image is on the X-ray. For example, bones and metal show up white on X-rays.

Air inside your body, such as the air in your lungs, shows up black on an X-ray because it is not dense. Materials such as fat or muscle show up as shades of gray. Some X-ray tests are conducted with contrast material which allows the X-ray to provide greater detail on the images.

X-ray imaging is used for many purposes but is particularly good at identifying bone fractures and abnormalities related to the boney structures of your body. The ability of X-ray’s to quickly visualize broken bones is why X-says are so often used in the hospital after a traumatic event, such as a car accident. X-rays are also good at visualizing evidence of pneumonia, signs of congestive heart failure, some cancers (including breast cancer – Mammography) and dental issues.

Some clients ask about the risks associated with the radiation exposure from X-rays. The Mayo Clinic notes that “Generally… radiation exposure from an X-ray is low, and the benefits from these tests far outweigh the risks.” For this reason and the X-ray’s ability to quickly and efficiently visualize bone damage, X-rays are heavily relied upon during the initial care and treatment of accident victims. The Mayo Clinic has an easy to read article about X-rays you can find here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/x-ray/about/pac-20395303?p=1

MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (“MRI”) involves the use of a strong magnetic field and radio waves to generate detailed images of soft tissues, including organs, and ligaments, and soft tissues within your spinal column. Unlike X-rays (and CT scans) MRIs do not use ionizing radiation which can be harmful. The scanner itself generally looks like a large tube into which the patient is placed laying down.

People who are severely claustrophobic or who are otherwise unable to go into the MRI imaging unit can request an “open MRI”. As suggested by the name, the open MRI is different from the traditional MRI in that the patient does not go into a tube. Some patients opt to receive medication to help with relaxation if they are concerned about their ability to go into the MRI machine. Like with the X-Ray (and CT scan), MRIs are painless.

Due to MRI studies being so good at imagining soft tissue, they are critical in treating the soft tissue injuries that so often happen during car accidents, motorcycle accidents and slip and falls. For example, MRIs are used to examine suspected brain injuries, joint (back, knee, shoulder) injuries, and spine injuries.

Like X-rays, MRIs can use contrast material to enhance the images which are captured. This contrast will help improve the visibility of particular tissue or organs. Unlike X-rays, MRIs can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes to complete. The time variation relates to the part of the body being examined.

The vast majority of our clients who have received injuries from auto accidents receive MRI imaging. This is primarily because one of the common types of injury stemming from auto accidents are injuries to the spinal column. For injuries such as herniated spinal discs, MRI imaging is the gold standard for diagnosis.

Additionally, many of our clients suffer from injured shoulders, brain injuries and knee injuries – all of which require MRI imaging for accurate imagining which then in turn allows the medical professional to make an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

CT Scan

A computed tomography scan is also known as a CT scan or CAT scan. CT scans use a combination of X-rays and computer programming to generate images of the target area or body part. The images are generated by combining different angles of images taken around the target area. CT scans can be used to image joint problems, fractures and tumors. The amount of radiation that the CT scan uses is greater than that of an X-ray due to the CT scan gathering more detailed information. Despite this increase in radiation, CT scans are oftentimes used to quickly examine patients who are suspected of having internal injuries from car accidents or other types of internal trauma. This is why they are so often used at the ER or hospital following a traumatic event.

Much like MRIs and X-rays, CT scans can be enhanced by using contrast material. Contrast material is a special dye which helps highlight targeted areas of examination. CT scans can take anywhere from a few minutes up to a half an hour.

Many of our clients ask what the differences are between MRIs and CT scans. The primary difference for purposes of helping a personal injury claim relate to the detail provided in the MRI versus a CT Scan. MRIs provide more detailed information about soft tissues such as spine injuries, brain injuries and skeletal systems than CT scans. An additional benefit is that no radiation is used in the MRI.

Conclusion

For purposes of building a successful injury claim after you have been injured in a car accident, MRIs are the best option for developing soft tissue and brain injury cases. If there are fractures, X-rays will be the best, fastest and most economical. CT scans will be relied upon in more nuanced situations.

If anyone you know has been injured, let the legal team at St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas put their knowledge, experience and reputation to work. Contact the St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas for a free consultation.