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Back Pain- Do I need an MRI? What you should know before getting an MRI for your low back pain!

One question I hear all the time at Natural Fit Therapy is….


Or ….


I understand where you are coming from… Your back is in pain, you have tried Ice, Heat and even asked your significant other to give you a massage.  But still no relief.  You might have already gone to the doctor and they told you to rest and take some pills.  But you are still in pain and you don’t want to have to take pills for the rest of your life.


If this sounds like you… then you are probably like most people that have back pain and you are looking for answers.  Why can’t the Doctor take an MRI and tell me what’s going wrong?

So are you ready for my answer to one of my most frequently asked questions…. DO I NEED AN MRI? The answer may surprise you.


You read that right.  The answer to whether you should get an MRI is… Probably Not.

Why Not you ask?

Here are my top 3 Reasons why most people don’t need an MRI.

  1. For starters MRIs don’t have all the answers nor do they tell the whole story. Believe it or not there are a lot the big and scary sounding things that show up on an MRI that may or may not be contributing to your back pain.  There have be numerous studies that have looked at MRIs of “normal” pain free subjects and oddly enough they found many of these big scary sounding terms.  Disc bulge, Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD), Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), and Spodylosis.

So, all those scary sounding terms and diagnoses were found in normal non painful subjects. There is a good chance that many of those scary things that show up on a MRI may not actually be the source of your pain. You would be more abnormal if you didn’t have something “abnormal/ scary” show up on your MRI.

Once you know that you have one of these scary but normal findings on an MRI you tend to avoid activity which can make your back pain worse. We know that hands on therapy and movement are the key for treating back pain and we don’t need and MRI to tell us that.

(Brinjikji et al.)

  1. MRIs are expensive. MRI machines are big expensive machines and the radiologist that reads your MRI is also expensive. Even if your insurance approves the MRI if you haven’t hit your deductible for the year you could be stuck with a big bill. Remember that’s a big bill for an MRI that doesn’t tell the whole story.
  2. Getting an MRI can also increase your chances of getting surgery and increase your total health care cost. After reading number 2 you may be saying to yourself, I have great insurance and I don’t have to pay a penny to get an MRI.  So, what’s the harm in looking?

Well it turns out that when you are in pain we are not very patient. Once we find one of those “abnormal” findings on an MRI (remember many people without pain have them too) we have a hard time ignoring that disc bulge or whatever it is.  Studies have shown that people who get an MRI prior to receiving physical therapy are much more likely to get surgery.  Surgery is a big deal and is not even close to a guarantee.  I’d say more of a 50/50 chance of helping.

Here at Natural Fit Therapy we treat people on a daily basis who have back pain and we help them get back to an active lifestyle without an MRI.  For me I wouldn’t increase my chance of having surgery by getting an MRI.

Now with that all being said… I didn’t say you should never get an MRI.  There are some cases that an MRI is necessary.  Our physical therapists are trained to identify red flags that may require an MRI for further evaluation.  So, if you don’t have any of those red flags then the answer to Should I get an MRI? is… Probably NOT

And what about those who have already had an MRI or have already had surgery and are still suffering with pain.  Well the good news is there is always something that can be done to help.  The combination of hands on manual therapy and movement can be very effective for helping with back pain.

If you would like to schedule a free discovery visit to find out if you should get an MRI click the link below

If you are suffering from back pain, be sure to check out our FREE Back Pain Tips (CLICK HERE)

And if you want some help faster, take advantage of our FREE Discovery Session! (CLICK HERE) or Call 512-730-0231

Ryan e1657920030149

Dr. Ryan Seifert

Natural Fit Physical Therapy

"We Help Adults 50+ Become More Active, Stay Healthy, And Avoid Slowing Down Without Pain Pills, Injections, Or Surgery."



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