Do I need an MRI?
An MRI can be scary. First you're in a claustrophobic tunnel, told to lay still for a long period of time, and then you get the dreaded MRI report telling you everything that is wrong with your neck or back, which can fill your mind with even more questions than you started with.
Some thoughts you may be having are: What's next? What do I do with this information? Do I need an injection, or even surgery to feel better? Is all hope lost? We will answer all of these questions below.
First, let's talk about injections and surgery. I will first preface by saying that injections and surgery definitely have their place and can be necessary in some situations. On the other hand, just because you have findings on your MRI report does not automatically mean you have to get an injection or surgery to feel better. Is this contradicting what you already thought you knew? Let's dive into the data to see what it has to say.
One particular study performed an MRI on adults of all ages who did not have back pain. The findings were astonishing! Nearly 40% of adults in their 20's without pain showed "positive" or "abnormal" findings. About 80% of adults in their 50's without pain showed disk degeneration (1). This shows that an MRI can be inconsistent with what symptoms you are experiencing and the MRI alone cannot necessarily guide treatment, tell us where the pain is coming from, or give you a prognosis on future treatment.
Now you may be thinking, if an MRI cannot do all of those things, then what can help guide treatment, tell me where my pain is coming from, and give me a prognosis? This is where a thorough physical therapy evaluation comes into play. Doctors of Physical Therapy have specialized training to thoroughly evaluate musculoskeletal pain and injury. They are also trained to rule out other potential causes of pain that are not musculoskeletal in nature, and will be able to assess if you need to be referred to another specialist based on those findings.
Getting thoroughly evaluated by a Physical Therapist before getting an expensive MRI is a good place to start and can save you money in the long run (on average up to $2,700!) 2. Does this mean MRI should never be used? No, but the latest research now tells us that MRI is not the final stop and that conservative treatment can absolutely help you!
Looking for a qualified Physical Therapist in downtown Milwaukee for your back pain? Contact us to schedule an evaluation today.
1. Brinjikji, W., et al. American Journal of Neuroradiology 36.4 (2015): 811-816.
2. Fritz, et al. Spine. 2012, Dec.