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  • Writer's pictureDr. Brandon

Pain Myths: X-rays and MRIs

A picture is worth a thousand words. Right? Well when it comes to X-rays or MRIs, especially for stuff like low back or neck pain, the picture alone will be worth a couple thousand dollars and

thousands more on shots or sometimes surgery. Welcome back to movement Monday and this we week we explore Pain Myths about needing an X-ray or a MRI and, if you've had a scan, what do those words mean?

Have you been told you’ve got a curve in your back, lost your lordosis or been told you got a disease, degenerative disk disease(not a disease), or that your back’s full of arthritis? What do these have to do with pain?(short answer, very little)

As a Physio, I’ve seen numerous patients who have told me that their physician or chiropractor has shown them their X-rays, and they know how bad it is. But has anybody stopped to take the time to tell you what your scan really means? No? Well let's give it a go.

One thing that might surprise you is that X-rays and MRIs are often not needed in order to treat your pain, especially in the spine. Knowing this alone can save you valuable time and money when looking for an answer to your pain and limitations.

How can this be? Because there is a high percentage of “abnormal” findings (such as disc bulges, partial tears, arthritis, “degeneration”, etc...) in people who aren’t experiencing any pain. In other words, the findings of an MRI or Xray can be very misleading...take for example,

Here are some MRI finding from people who are HEALTHY and PAIN-FREE:

  • 33% of ALL people had a rotator cuff tear

  • 60% of people had a disc abnormality in their low back

  • 80% of people had a disc bulge in their neck

  • 75% of baseball pitchers had rotator cuff damage

  • 65% had cartilage damage in their knee

  • 25% had a meniscus tear in their knee

  • Scientists have even found degeneration” in mummies, cavemen, and dinosaurs

What we now know, just like someone’s skin can give you an idea of how old they are, your X-ray or MRI can give a picture of you"wrinkles on the inside".Many of the things we’ve been

Wrinkles on the outside

labeling as abnormalities are really just normalities. In fact, if we scan anyone over the age of 20 there will be age changes. And those age changes keep on going until our last breath but interestingly back and neck pain peaks in our 40’s and 50’s. If age changes were really important then back pain would not be present in school children but present in everyone as they get older, but it isn’t. What’s more important, your back can heal. Yes even if you had an MRI several years ago with the “worst back” your physician has ever seen.

Your Insurance Company is Aware of this Myth Too...

Your insurance company is aware of this myth too because they see that an MRI is usually the pathway into more and more invasive procedures, shots, or dangerous painkillers. That is why they are having people go to the more effective and less expensive(how often to you see those

Physical Therapy Low Back Adjustment

together) option of Physical Therapy First before going to an MRI. Don’t get me wrong, MRI’s do have a role, especially if your Physician suspects something serious going on but as a Physio, I treat the person, not their picture.

Next Time You Are Told You Need an MRI...

So what do you do if you're sitting in the doctor's office discussing your problem (or at least trying to discuss your problem for longer than 30 seconds before you get cut off) and the Doctor says he wants to get an MRI or X-Ray. How do you know what questions to ask?

Fill out the form below to get my X-ray and MRI checklist so you know the right questions to ask if you’re told you need an MRI or X-ray.

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