Have Low Back Pain? Did you recently get an MRI? Don’t let the results frighten you.
Have you recently had an MRI of your low back with scary or worrisome findings? Don’t panic! Just because there are positive findings on your MRI doesn’t necessarily mean those findings are what is causing your pain. Disc bulges, degenerative disc disease, and osteoarthritis can all conjure scary and worrisome thinking. But what if these things are not responsible for your pain? It’s actually quite possible that these findings were even present before you had any pain. An interesting study was performed back in 2015 that looked at MRI findings of individuals who did not have back pain. Researchers found that 37% of 20-year-olds, 80% of 50-year-olds, and 96% of 80-year-olds had some sort of disc degeneration in their lumbar spine. They also found that 30% of 20-year-olds, 60% of 50-year-olds, and 84% of 80-year-olds all had evidence of a disc bulge. Despite these findings, none of these individuals had any pain at the time of the MRI. It’s possible that these changes are part of the normal aging process.
In the past, if you had back pain and an MRI showed serious degeneration or disc bulge the thought was that only surgery could resolve your pain, but a lot of current research shows that this is no longer the case and that conservative management should be the first course of action. While surgery is still necessary in some cases, the majority of individuals seeking treatment for their low back pain do not need surgery.
So how can physical therapy help with your pain?
The first step is education. Your physical therapist will discuss your x-ray and MRI results with you. We will also discuss ways to change or modify certain activities early on which may be contributing to your pain and will start you on an exercise program consisting of both ROM exercises and strength training.
So, remember, your imaging results do not mean you automatically need surgery or have little hope of feeling better. There is no guarantee that surgery will fix your low back pain. In most cases, physical therapy should be the first course of action for the majority of individuals seeking treatment for their low back pain. Make sure to call your local Carolina Physical Therapy location for an appointment (no doctor’s referral needed!) today!
Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations
- Brinjikji, P.H. Luetmer, B. Comstock, B.W. Bresnahan, L.E. Chen, R.A. Deyo, S. Halabi, J.A. Turner, A.L. Avins, K. James, J.T. Wald, D.F. Kallmes, J.G. Jarvik
American Journal of Neuroradiology Apr 2015, 36 (4) 811-816; DOI: 10.3174/ajnr.A4173