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Low Back Pain: MRI?

Do you really need an MRI for your lower back pain?  I have discussed this in a previous post,


The MRI and Lower Back Pain Controversy.   Take a look at the following video it does a wonderful job explaining the controversy of using an MRI

Since I am a visual learner and I since reading is faster than watching a video I have transcribed what was said in this video. All the credit goes to the creator of this video.


Do you have low back pain and wonder why hasn’t my doctor ordered an MRI?

Chances are, you don’t need it… and you DON’t want it.  You just might not know it yet.

Let’s look at this a little more. MRIs are a medical imaging tool used to capture a picture. This is one picture at one moment in time. Much like this phone (old land line phone). What does this picture tell us (the phone)? Can we tell if it is ringing? Is it even plugged in? Yes, some do still plug in.

MRIs are basically the same in that, the picture doesn’t tell everything. They can actually provide misleading information which is not good for you. Studies have shown people (ages 20-80) who don’t even have low back pain have positive MRI findings including bulging discs (52%), degenerative discs (90% in people over 60), herniated discs (28%), and joint findings (38%).  Remember these people did NOT have back pain.

The likelihood of finding something goes up with age. Think of it this way. We show age on the outside.  The MRI shows signs of aging on the inside which doesn’t mean anything is seriously wrong. That “degenerative disc” or “herniation” may be similar to a wrinkle of gray hair.

But an MRI is no big deal, right?


 If people without back pain have a high rate of positive findings how can anyone tell what’s actually relevant.  An MRI will lead to recommendations for invasive interventions that may likely include surgery.

You may be thinking, “If that’s what it takes”, but most people don’t need back surgery & for those who choose to a large percentage don’t show any significant improvement after 1 year.  Not to mention surgeries carry the risk of death (2.3-5.6%).

Is an MRI & surgery worth it or even necessary? You may be wondering who actually needs an MRI?

MRIs are necessary for anyone with these symptoms

50 years old or more with a history of cancer
Loss of bowel or bladder control
Urinary retention
Saddle anesthesia – loss of sensation in groin/buttocks
Progressive neurological deficits – sensory loss & weakness
No improvements in pain after 4 weeks of conservative care that includes physical therapy

If you have any of those symptoms, see your physician sooner rather than later because you likely need further testing that would include an MRI.

If your only major issue is pain in the back and/or legs rest assured, an MRI won’t help you get better and it does nothing to help doctors manage your symptoms conservatively.

So, what should you be doing?

1. Don’t worry – what you are experiencing is normal and you will get better
2. Stay active – walk or do other activities that do not aggravate your symptoms
3. Go see a physical therapist (Dr Notley – Chiropractor, Athletic Therapist, etc) who can provide treatments to reduce pain and improve your functional level and make sure you don’t rush into something you may regret.

Although you have low back pain, don’t ask for an MRI it may only make things worse

References provided on video.


I must once again thank the person who created this video

I hope you found this eye opening

Dr Notley
Chiropractor and Athletic Therapist in Winnipeg

Originally posted 2012-09-17 03:07:00.