Today’s technology is used to help people to find responses to their daily problems. It’s use in health is not an exception. Nowadays scans and imaging are a very common tool in the diagnosis of injury and pain, as they give clear images of tissues deep inside the body. However, scans can’t always explain pain, the current symptoms or the recovery in patients.
Using the example of low back pain; in the last years significant amount of studies show that the results of scans correlate poorly with symptoms in people with low back pain or even more, people without low back pain having changes on MRI, that don’t cause any symptoms at all. Therefore, scans are not always necessary, as they don’t show exactly what is wrong or some findings would have been there before the pain and will still be there when your pain is gone.
Of course this does not mean that all MRI scans are irrelevant in all cases. In patients with suspect of an underlying condition, severe or increased weakness in the leg or foot, history of cancer, abnormal reflexes, with loss of bowel or bladder control, the use of scan is mandatory. But on the other hand, the premature use of MRI can actually do harm, as they create a wrong perception and strongly reinforce the idea that something might be broken or crooked causing fear and influence behaviour. Nothing is worse for low back pain than fear because it impacts negatively on the treatment outcomes and pain.
So, it is important to know that pain can´t be diagnosed with imaging in isolation. A whole clinical history and examination is needed, considering biomechanics, environment, believes abut pain and even stress or other emotions. Moreover, scan findings will not usually change your current treatment, activity and exercise will always be essential for your recovery.
In conclusion, in case of pain visit your health professional for guidance, and in the meantime, try not to worry because the MRI results will just give a very small part of what is going on.