MRI’s are an incredibly accurate way of imaging the back giving us detailed anatomical information about the structures inside. However, we have since learnt that knowing what is inside doesn’t tell us the full story. In fact, for lower backs, it is often very normal for there to be findings on your scan that represent no threat and are not the cause of your pain. The disc bulge on your MRI was potentially there well before your pain came about and will likely be there even after your pain is resolved, never causing any problems.
The following table represents the findings of 3110 MRIs performed on people who DO NOT have a history of lower back pain.
We have since learnt that abnormal imaging findings are the new normal. When you have lower back pain, a physio can interpret your scan and compare it with your history to determine the relevance of the finding on the scan.
So why do we scan a lower back if the findings aren’t that informative?
These imaging results depict the normal age-related changes that occur in the lower back. Imaging of your back should rarely be used to determine the source of your pain. Instead, it is better used to rule out any potentially sinister conditions such as cancer, fractures, infections etc. From your history, a physio will explain whether a scan is required and what they are looking for.
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