Is a picture worth 1000 words?
When having low back pain, you may undergo an MRI or CT scan. As our technology continues to improve MRI and CT scanners have become more proficient at finding changes in our low back. This higher imaging quality comes with a cost in that many of these positive findings like “bulging discs”, arthritis, “pinched nerves”, “stenosis” and the frightening-sounding “degenerative disc disease” can be found in people without any low back pain. These MRI and CT scan findings can be found in up to 37% of people in their 20’s and up to 96% of people in their 80’s (Brinjikji et al. 2014). It appears many of these MRI and CT scan findings occur with the aging process similar to wrinkles appearing in our skin. An interesting study demonstrated that many of these findings in the low back demonstrate spontaneous regression (up to 96% of cases) even for the most severe categories of a bulging disc injury (Chiu et al. 2015).
Take home message? Keep the image in perspective given the high rate of these findings in people without low back pain and rely more on your current low back pain symptoms and examination findings to guide your treatment decisions.
Mend is a physical therapy clinic with locations in Boulder and Lafayette, Colorado. At Mend our orthopedic specialists have gone through extensive training to ensure we are delivering the best possible care to our clients. For more information on low back pain and injuries and treatment options, please visit our blog and schedule a free consultation with one of our orthopedic clinical specialists.