If you’ve been unlucky enough to suffer from chronic or ongoing back pain, chances are that at some stage, you’ve had other investigations to capture what is happening inside your spine. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an incredible technology that can provide essential insights into tissues that otherwise can’t be seen.

Unfortunately, there are some common misconceptions around what that information means, which can sometimes be unhelpful and even harmful to recovery. Here are a few things you might not realize that can help you understand your MRI:

Not all tissues show up on every scan

Muscle, fascia, or other irritable tissues may not show up on your scan, meaning you may experience a lot of pain but have a completely normal scan. Not all parts of your anatomy will show up from every scan’s perspective and some tissue changes might only be evident in certain postures.

Age-related changes are normal and may not be related to your pain

Results such as arthritis, disc bulges, and small tears can be concerning. However, it’s helpful to note that people who have no painful symptoms can have similar, if not more, age-related changes, and these signs may not be related to your pain at all.

Severe pain may not be related to severe changes on MRI

Pain is a complex experience, influenced by multiple factors including the sensitivity of the tissues involved, what the brain believes about the pain and what it means, and how long it has been present. MRI is helpful for ruling out severe pathology such as infection, fracture, or malignancy; however, it is not always an accurate guide to the source of symptoms. The results of an MRI should always be taken into account as a small part of a bigger clinical picture when guiding treatment.

Talk to your physiotherapist for advice on any imaging results you have and what they might mean for your treatment and prognosis. None of the information in this article is a replacement for professional medical advice. Always consult a medical professional for advice on your condition.

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