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Things you need to know before getting your first Ankle MRIs

October 26, 2021 | Farah Jassawalla

An MRI is simply magnetic resonance imaging. While the word might feel daunting and the process may feel scary, there’s actually very little to worry about. Doctors perform an MRI when they are working on diagnosing what’s wrong with you. Instead of invasive procedures, the doctor may first order a number of non-invasive tests that might accurately indicate the issue. 

People unfamiliar with the word and the procedure might feel nervous about getting an MRI done but it’s better to be prepared beforehand and manage expectations. If it's your first time getting an MRI done, and that too of your leg and ankle, worry not, we’ve got you.

What is an ankle MRI and why might you need one?

Reports estimate that around 25,000 people sprain their ankles each day in the United States with over half of these incidents being a result of athletic activities. Around a million emergency room visits are made each year for ankle injuries with 10% of these injuries being significantly debilitating. 

Our ankles are very accident prone and a lot of people face strains and twists on a regular basis. Most of these strains or twists might be due to some kind of sports activity or just be an everyday injury, but whatever the cause, it certainly is a painful injury. While most sprains or swellings will heal normally (in a week or more), your doctor might refer you to a radiologist for an MRI scan of your ankle, if it doesn’t. 

Ankle MRI may be considered the next course of action if your injury doesn’t heal normally or there is unusual or extreme pain. While an MRI might be covered by your insurance, the deductibles are, in most cases, quite high which is why you may feel it better to skip the MRI even if the pain is not subsiding.

An MRI may cost anything from $500 to $3000 depending on several factors. In any case, sometimes the MRI may be inevitable and you need to know what follows. A doctor may also order an MRI if you frequently have ankle twists or strains, which is a sign of weak joints. Your physician may also recommend it if the X-ray was inconclusive or unclear in the image. In other cases, if the pain is too severe or if the ankle is bleeding or badly injured, the physician will order an MRI to gauge the extent of damage to your ligaments and tissues. 

The MRI result will help the physician make an informed decision about how to move forward with your predicament.

How to prepare for an ankle MRI

On the day of the ankle MRI, the patient needs to arrive at least 15 minutes before an MRI takes place. The radiology department or imaging center may send you a safety checklist earlier to fill out before you arrive at the center. When you arrive at the center, you will hand over the checklist for a nurse practitioner or an attendant to go over before you begin your exam. If you have underlying conditions or situations where you may have metal implants in your body, you need to let your doctor know. 

Conditions including a history of diabetes, pregnancy, any hearing aid devices like cochlear implants, any shrapnel still present in your body, or any heart or kidney-related issues must be brought to the doctor’s attention beforehand. 

You will be instructed to change into a gown, and any jewelry, watch, or hairpins will have to be taken off. You will be provided with a locker to keep your personal belongings in, and it's wise to bring a person along for the procedure for support. 

The procedure takes place in a cylindrical machine. The MRI machine will make loud, banging noises while it takes pictures of your body for the doctor to analyze, so expect that. The MRI technician may provide you with earmuffs or headphones to help diminish the loud noises. If at any point you feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic, you can alert the staff through the in-built microphone.  

What to expect in an ankle MRI

While the MRI scan may seem like a daunting process to go through, it's a painless and minimally invasive outpatient procedure. This means patients don’t have to stay in the hospital overnight and are free to leave immediately after the procedure. 

Like any MRI, this scan also takes place in a separate room with a computer in an adjoining room that displays the captured pictures to the MRI technician. 

The test may take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on how still you can keep inside the machine while the MRI is turned on and what details the doctor is asking for. Sometimes, patients have a hard time staying still, which may lengthen the procedure by several minutes. But in any case, the staff will make sure that they get the pictures that are required and you don’t have to take them again. 

For an ankle or a foot MRI, the leg part of the patient is put into the machine for imaging purposes. You may feel tingling in your arms or legs and may feel a bit warm, these are common. The key is to stay as still as possible and the procedure will be done before you know it. 

When can you expect results?

After your ankle mri is performed, the MRI center or radiology department may take one to two weeks (unless urgently requested otherwise) to tabulate your result including insights from the radiologist, who will then reach out to you or your primary care physician

All in all, an MRI is vastly more uncomplicated and result-oriented than a CT scan. Many complications that may occur as a result of dye allergy or a reaction during a CT scan are absent in an MRI. An MRI produces more laser-focused and precise pictorial results in comparison to a CT scan, hence it remains a preferred choice of physicians for any ankle-related injuries. 


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