When seeking medical advice for low back pain, some of you may have been recommended to have an MRI. While others who’ve attempted to manage low back pain alone, might be thinking an MRI can provide you all the answers to help solve your pain. The purpose of this blog is to help clear up all the confusion surrounding MRI results and low back pain.
If suffering from chronic low back pain or experiencing a sudden (acute) onset of pain, the first question is usually going to be, “What’s injured?” It’s a completely understandable question that seems necessary to solve pain. Once we identify the injured body part, we’ll know how to fix it and reduce the pain. This is where we once thought an MRI would fit in the picture. However, that’s not the case.
Instead, researchers have found that an MRI does not help predict your outcomes of acute or chronic low back pain. It may also simply increase your risk of having dangerous surgery, unnecessary injection or be prescribed use of addictive opioids.
The “Good News”…is abnormal MRI results are typically normal. There is a low or “poor” correlation between the amount of low back pain you’re suffering from and the amount of injury found on an MRI. Finally, discs and other soft tissue structures at your spine can heal on their own. In other words, an MRI result of your back today will look different than the results taken 6 months from now.
Over the years, researchers have completed MRI studies on people who have no complaints of low back pain. After having these pain-free individuals undergo an MRI at their low back, here is what they found:
Over 50% of the individuals age 40+ had a disc bulge and no back pain
Over 50% of the individuals age 30+ had disc degeneration and no back pain
90% of those 60 years and older had disc bulges and spine degeneration without back pain
36% of those 60 years and older had a Full Herniated Disc and no back pain
27% of those 40 years and older had a Full Herniated Disc and no back pain
Here are some pictures to help further explain this.
Take a closer look at both of the above MRI results. One picture belongs to someone who has suffered from chronic and severe low back pain, while the other picture belongs to someone who has dealt with occasional and mild low back pain.
Image on the right: 62-year-old male who has had both of his hips replaced. MRI results show significant lumbar degenerative changes with multiple disc herniations. When he had his MRI, complaints were of intermittent low back pain, and he was able to make a Full Recovery after 9 visits of physical therapy.
Image on the left: 32-year-old male who had complaints of chronic and severe low back pain that resulted in him having to be put on leave from work. MRI results were deemed “unremarkable” with signs of only mild disc bulge. He required 24 visits of physical therapy over 9 months before returning to work.
I’m sure you’re now asking: “What do I make of all this information?” OR “How does this information help me solve my low back pain?”
The vital message is that we have no evidence that your MRI results will be an indication of prolonged pain and disability. It’s simply a “picture” of a single moment in time. In almost all cases of low back pain, there is no serious damage or disease at the spine.
Regardless of the what MRI imaging shows, the majority of low back pain resolves fairly quickly with appropriate care. Chances are also very high that your MRI findings were already present before you had low back pain.
Have questions about your low back pain and MRI results? Are you looking for the next steps to solve your low back pain? We would be happy to connect you with one of the expert Physical Therapists at PRO Therapy. Our specialist providers have extensive experience managing low back pain. In fact, low back pain is the most common condition we treat at PRO Therapy!
If you want the quickest path to returning to a life that is no longer limited by low back pain, get in touch with us today! Contact us directly at 612-767-9917