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  • Writer's pictureDr. Melissa Adams

MRI Findings & Low Back Pain

A person on a table going into an MRI

When we are in pain, especially chronic pain with no known or obvious-to-us cause, we are often desperate for answers.

A common occurrence in this search for finding answers is imaging. "Imaging" in the context of chronic pain, often refers to CT scans, MRI scans, and/or x-rays.

When someone has low back pain, it is common to start with an x-ray to see if there is any obvious reason/answer seen, such as a fracture. If a person has pain and has a fracture, it is often assumed the fracture is the cause of the pain.

Many times, with x-ray in particular, the patient will be told there are no significant findings, it is "normal." If needed, this is usually when an MRI is ordered, if it is indicated (a fancy way of saying it depends on chronicity, symptoms, the suspected diagnosis, etc).

MRI's are a common imaging modality we can use to look at more than what we can see in an x-ray, for example - we can see the discs in between the spinal vertebrae.

What is interesting is that as we improve our imaging abilities, we see more "stuff," but we are left with the question ... Is what we're seeing the actual cause of this person's pain?

In this study, they looked at 49 individals (25 female, 24 male) with an average age of about 45 years old. These individuals were split into 2 groups, one group had a history of low back pain during the previous 10 years (36 individuals), while the other group (13 individuals) had no low back pain within the previous 10 years). The individuals had received a "baseline" MRI before the start of the 10 year timeframe, allowing for a more accurate comparison between the beginning and end of the study.

The group WITH the low back pain during the previous 10 years did NOT have a significantly increased prevalence of disc degeneration, disc bulging, or spodylolisthesis compared to those who did NOT have low back pain in the previous 10 years.

An alarming 76.9% of those who had NO low back pain during the 10 years showed disc degeneration. Along the same lines, studies have found there to be " significant relationship between spondylolisthesis and current [low back pain]..."

The biggest takeaway from a study like this is ... even if someone's imaging looks "bad," it does not mean that what is seen on the screen is the reason for their pain. In our office, Dr. Adams has seen some gnarly x-rays that LOOK painful ... but with proper care, the patient is doing well, living life, often completely pain free.

Just because something looks bad on the screen does NOT mean you are doomed, you will be in pain for forever, you have no options in your care, etc.

We have several equestrian riders who are in their 70's and even 80's, they have some gnarly imaging results, but they are living their life, most have not had knees/hips replaced and are pain free or close to it!

It's just ONE piece of information that needs to be looked at with all other pieces in mind. This also does not mean that what is seen on the MRI is not the cause of your pain/discomfort. It is just important to remember to look at all the pieces, not just one piece.

It is also important to look at all the pieces with an open mind about all treatment possibilities ... back to the "if all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail" ... we do NOT want to go into anything with that type of approach!

Chiropractic care is GREAT for many patients who have all sorts of findings on their imaging results, a chiropractor can do an exam and see if they can be helpful for what your current condition is!

*This is not medical advice, please consult with a chiropractor to see if chiropractic care is right for you and your case*


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