Back Pain: Do You Need an MRI?
Updated: Apr 5
A common belief regarding back pain is that an MRI is always needed for proper evaluation and treatment.
But do MRI always add value in deciding the best treatment plan?
What is an MRI?
Magnetic resonance imaging is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to form pictures of the anatomy and the physiological processes of the body. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields, magnetic field gradients, and radio waves to generate images of the organs in the body.
Do you always need an MRI to evaluate back pain?
Back pain is very common. It is estimated that around 90% of people experience back pain at some point in their life. For most people, back pain subsides on its own within 6 weeks. In the majority of cases, back pain can be managed without an MRI.
When is spine MRI indicated?
Some of the red flags that might indicate a serious pathology and the need for an MRI are: traumatic injury, unexpected weight loss, high fever, history of cancer and loss of bladder function. MRI is also advisable for back pain lasting for more than three months.
Should I be worried about spine degeneration shown in MRI?
As far as your MRI findings are not correlated with neurological symptoms or other red flags, you should not worry about degeneration shown in MRI. Research indicates that many spine MRI findings like degeneration and disc bulges are normal signs of aging and they should not be considered threatening as they are found in healthy individuals without back pain too. A good clinician should treat the patient and not the MRI.
What are the drawbacks of routine spine MRI?
In some cases an MRI can be detrimental to the patient's recovery if the findings create fear of movement and negative thoughts.
If you are not sure about what's causing your back pain, consult a doctor or a physiotherapist.