I Have Claustrophobia: Can I Handle an MRI?

If enclosed spaces make you feel trapped and panicky, the prospect of spending time in an MRI machine might make you nervous. Although it’s an excellent tool for visualizing your inner tissues and diagnosing orthopedic conditions, an MRI test requires spending some time in a big tube while the device scans your body. 

At Coastal Ortho in Torrance and El Segundo, California, we understand that our patients may have concerns when facing medical procedures like an MRI scan. One of the most common fears is claustrophobia, which can make the thought of having an MRI intimidating. 

However, we have several strategies and options to help you manage this fear, starting with this guide. Here, we explain what an MRI scan entails, ways to deal with your pre-scan anxiety, and how to make your MRI more comfortable.

Take the mystery out of MRI scans

While an X-ray captures images of hard structures like your bones, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan creates detailed images of your organs and tissues. 

The procedure is simple: You lie down in a tube-like machine that generates a magnetic field and radio waves to create images. This process is completely safe, noninvasive, and painless, but if you have claustrophobia, it may cause some mental distress if you approach it unprepared.

Our experienced team has helped countless patients with claustrophobia get through the scan without a problem, and we can help you, too. 

Managing pre-MRI scan anxiety

A successful MRI begins before your appointment starts. Here’s how to prepare your mind for a smooth MRI experience.

Deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing exercises can be highly effective in managing anxiety. By focusing on your breath, you distract your mind from anxious thoughts. To ease your worries, try square breathing — or inhaling deeply for a count of four, holding your breath for four, and exhaling for a count of four. Repeat this cycle a few times before your scan.

Mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment and accepting it without judgment. Studies show that practicing mindfulness before an MRI can reduce stress and anxiety by preventing your mind from dwelling on past or future worries. Try focusing on the sensation of your breath, the feel of the bed beneath you, or the sounds around you during the scan.


If you have severe anxiety, you may benefit from sedation before your MRI. This medication doesn’t knock you out; instead, it's a mild sedative that simply helps you relax during the scan.

MRI scan FAQs and common concerns

About 12.5% of the population has claustrophobia, so you’re not alone. Here’s what most of them want to know when they face an MRI.

Will the MRI hurt?

No, MRI scans are painless. However, lying in one position for an extended period can be uncomfortable.

How long does an MRI take?

An MRI scan typically lasts 15 to 90 minutes, depending on the body part being scanned.

Can I have someone with me?

We want to make you as comfortable as possible, so if having a friend or loved one with you calms your fears, invite that person to your appointment.

Practical tips for managing claustrophobia during an MRI

Now that you know what to expect and how to prep, here are some strategies to use during your MRI.

Listen to music

Music can be a powerful relaxation tool. We can play your favorite soothing music during the procedure to distract your mind and make the time pass more quickly.

Positive self-talk

Your mindset plays a significant role in managing anxiety. Encourage yourself with positive affirmations like, “I can handle this,” “I am safe,” and “This is for my health.” These statements can help foster a sense of control and bravery.


Don’t underestimate the power of controlled breathing. The same techniques you use to calm your anxiety before your MRI can work during the scan, too. Deep, slow breaths lower your heart rate and promote a sense of peace and tranquility. 


Try counting if you find it difficult to focus on your breath or music. Counting is a simple distraction technique that can help divert your attention away from your anxiety.

Visualize your happy place

Visualization can be a potent tool for relaxation, too. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a place that brings you peace and happiness. It could be a beach, a forest, or any place that brings you joy.

Talk to us

You’re never alone during your MRI, and you can always talk to us throughout the procedure. If you're feeling anxious, let us know. 

Don’t let claustrophobia prevent you from getting the vital tests you need for your health. Call Coastal Ortho in Torrance or El Segundo, California, to schedule your MRI with the specialists who understand your struggle with claustrophobia.