Low back pain is one of the most common reasons that people seek care. Often times this pain has no known original injury, or the “original injury” happened so long ago that it can’t exactly be blamed for the long term back pain that someone might be experiencing since. A commonly asked question by patients coming in to physical therapy for their low back pain is whether or not they need some sort of imaging- a radiograph (Xray) or MRI.
Old Fashioned Medicine
Until recently, it was fairly common practice to obtain some sort of imaging of someone’s low back if they were experiencing pain. But in 2015 there was a study published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology (I’m sure you all got it, you all subscribe to this journal right? Ha!) that looked at MRI imaging in people without a history of back pain. The goal was to determine how common “abnormal” MRI findings are in people without low back pain.
What this table tells us is that some “abnormal” MRI findings are really not so abnormal after all! Specifically, if we look at the first row- Disk degeneration- even by age 30, over half of people will have this finding on an MRI of their back despite the fact that they do not have low back pain. Even more interesting, if we look at the row for disk bulge, we can see that by age 40, half of the people studied had at least one bulging disk, without any pain!
Get PT First!
Bob Cranny, PT