Two of the most common scans for spinal pain are x-rays and MRIs. Often a patient may ask if their back pain warrants an MRI to find out if it is one of those sinister “slipped discs” or arthritis that may be causing all their pain and dysfunction. Recently there has been a trend by health care professionals to veer away from these imaging procedures and you may wonder why? Surely getting some clarity on the matter would help with the treatment and rehabilitation goals?

Well the answer to this question is more often that not NO. It would not change the way your therapist treats your pain, or rule out movements that you should “never do again”. It also does not mean that you will forever have a weak spot in this area that you have to be super careful with and here are some reasons why…..

New research shows scanning to find the source of back pain may do more harm than good. Studies have shown that when comparing patients suffering back pain, those that have had a scan vs those that have not, demonstrated that patients receiving scans reported worse out comes than those without scans.

Some reasons for this are that patients start to think of themselves as having horrible injuries which creates avoidance patterns resulting in lack of exercise (something which can be beneficial for back pain) and fear of movement. Scans also place unnecessary costs on the patients and health care system and expose patients to radiation and unnecessary surgery.

Arthritis or bulging discs do not have to correlate with pain. Bulging discs are common in the general population with people experiencing no pain what so ever. Also Studies have shown that a disc herniation can heal without surgical intervention.

Most back pain gets better within 30 days if a patient takes normal precautions (even quicker if they see their myotherapist :-))

The treatment you receive from your myotherapist will be based upon orthopaedic testing results that your therapist will perform in order to do the best treatment plan for you. These do not need to be followed up with scans unless unusual or extreme results are found.

Of course there are times when a scan can be totally justified. This can be in the case of pain that doesn’t follow expected pathways, the pain is so disabling that the patient may need an operation or in the least cortisone injections, unusual symptoms and to check for level of degeneration or disease.

By Catherine Bainbridge, Myotherapist