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Radiology/Brachial Plexus MRI vs. Cervical Spine MRI


QUESTION: What is the difference between a MRI of the cervical spine and that of the brachial plexus? Do they reveal completely different things?

If I suspect I have an inflamed nerve in the scalene muscles which is causing tension/pain from my shoulder to fingers, which MRI is more suitable?  

The doctor (looks fresh out of college) ordered two MRIs of the brachial plexus for me (left & right), and I'm wondering if he did the right thing.


Sorry for the delay.  I thought I answered your question last week but I guess my response went somewhere into cyberspace. perhaps some glitch.

Anyway. Great question.
I agree with your 100% that you need MRI of the cervical spine first especially if your symptoms are on both sides.  While scalene muscles and adjacent nerves can be better seen on brachial plexus MRI, I highly doubt that that is actually where the problem is.  It is most commonly  found in the cervical spine.  

Cervical spine concentrates on the midline where the spinal canal is and where the disks usually degenerate causing nerve problems.  Brachial plexus looks at the nerves after they exited the spine and travel through the lower neck over the collar bone into your arm.  It is highly highly unlikely that symptoms are caused at the brachial plexus. It is very common and much more likely that cervical spine and discs are the culprit of the symptoms.

You may also want to consider going to a specialist who can localize your symptoms better.

Hope this helps.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Michael,

I forgot to add that though I have bilateral symptoms, the left side seems worse.

When you say "better seen" and "concentrate", does this mean each type of MRI will also show some parts of the other? E.g. will the cervical spine MRI show what's going on in the scalene muscles?

The reason you said it is highly highly unlikely that symptoms are caused at the brachial plexus is because symptoms are mostly unilateral in such cases. Am I right?   


Each type of MRI will show parts of the other. The center of the view is different. It doesn't matter if one is worse than the other or the symptoms are on one side only. The first thing to check is your cervical spine.  If it is negative then I would go to a specialist like neurologist or spine specialist so they can assess you and do a good physical exam, pinpointing a possible location for your symptoms. I would do that after cervical MRI; and suggest you don't do any more imaging unless directed by a specialist.
Brachial plexus is highly uncommon place to have anything going on.



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Michael K.


Almost any kind of questions regarding any types of radiology exams, procedures, meaning of radiology reports etc...


12 year experience in the field of radiology

American Society of Neuroradiology, Senior Member Society of Pediatric Radiology, Active Member

Radiology Seminars in pediatric neurology American Journal of Roentgenology American Journal of Neuroradiology

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