Peripheral nerves are an essential part of the human body. They connect the brain to the spinal cord and to the rest of the body. From fine to gross motor skills, peripheral nerves make day-to-day living possible.
Unfortunately, not only are these nerves very fragile and easily damaged, they are also notoriously difficult to image using conventional methods.
An injury to the peripheral nerves compromises your ability to send sensory information to and from your brain, spine, and limbs. It is critical that a physician can view nerve damage as accurately as possible. A detailed image of peripheral nerves provides valuable information about a patient’s condition and helps the physician better treat the patient.
While very few modalities exist that properly image peripheral nerves, evidence suggests that advancing forms of MRI technology can make enhanced imaging possible.
New Technology Enhances Peripheral Nerve MRIs
Manufacturers are working towards improving MR imaging abilities in regards to peripheral nerves, and two techniques are leading the way in results.
Fat Suppressed Sequences
This robust imaging aid separates fat and water in the image, making it easier to see subtle structures. By providing more fat suppression than standard methods, clinicians can produce highly detailed images of small fields of view.
Clinicians can apply different weightings to their approach, which makes the nerve signals even clearer and creates better images of the anatomy.
This new fat suppression technology can generate images that are “fat only” and “water only,” providing the clinician with multiple views of a single subject.
In the clinical setting, this type of MR imaging is commonly utilized to view injuries in patients involved in motor vehicle accidents, joint dislocation, thoracic outlet syndrome, tumor, and a myriad of inflammatory conditions.
Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Another method of achieving a high-quality image of peripheral nerves is through the diffusion of water. This imaging technique aims to characterize the motion of water molecules in tissue. Water molecules in the peripheral nerves are more likely to traverse along the longitudinal nerve axis than in any other direction. Using gradients during an MRI, physicians can gather data about the water’s movement and generate a clear image of the peripheral nerve area.
Diffusion Tensor Imaging can also evaluate the structural integrity of peripheral nerves through tractography. Using data of the water’s movement, 3D images can be generated to display nerve integrity after a crushing injury, and to create a visualization of the nerves after a repair procedure.
Monitoring Nerve Health in Patients
The ability to monitor and examine nerve health in many patients is essential to their wellbeing.
Many people experience nerve damage after encountering trauma. By incorporating the new fat suppression and water diffusion methods with MRI, physicians can see the extent of the nerve damage and potentially treat the problem before it advances.
For patients suffering from a variety of diseases such as diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancers, an accurate visual of their nerve damage is essential to developing proper treatment plans. In some cases, where patients have developed demyelinating neuropathy, a condition where their nerve fibers have become damaged, fat suppression and water molecule movement data allow physicians to examine the extent of the demyelination and begin the treatment process.
Advanced fat suppression techniques and Diffusion Tensor Imaging used in MRI have helped physicians take long strides forward in assessing peripheral nerve damage. This technology has the potential to have a huge impact on reducing the likelihood of motor movement, limb, and sensory loss in patients.
Learn more about advancements in peripheral nerve imaging.