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WRAL Health Team

RALEIGH, N.C. – David Rankin, 49, has been dealing with back pain since he was in his mid-20s. Ibuprofen or ice usually helped, but recently the pain grew worse.

“I started having sciatic nerve pain, which I’ve had it before. It’s nerve pain which starts going down your leg,” he said.

Rankin joined an imaging study with using a Fonar Multipositional Upright MRI, the first of its kind in the state.

In standard MRI scans, the patient lies down in a narrow tunnel, which can be a problem for some patients.

“I’m not claustrophobic, so it doesn’t really bother me. I usually go to sleep,” Rankin said.

In Rankin’s case, standing up during MRI imaging may be the best way to evaluate the bulging disc herniation in his spine, doctors said. When Rankin stands up, the pain is worse.

“Standing actually brings the value to it. You actually catch the problem while it’s happening,” Rankin said.

The standing MRI is also very quiet.

“It’s so quiet that you can listen to and watch TV while you’re having your MRI,” Orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Musante said.

Musante, of Triangle Orthopedics, said the study compares spine images lying down and standing up. He saw subtle differences in Rankin’s bulged disc through the study.

The body’s weight load gives a clearer picture of when the pain is worse, Musante said.

In Rankin’s case, surgery wasn’t recommended. Musante suggested he undergo physical therapy and pain medication.

For patients who are claustrophobic or are too large for a standard MRI scan, there is also another option. The open-bore MRI has a bigger opening. The machines are in use at Raleigh Radiology, WakeMed and Rex Hospitals.