Scans for Back Pain can be harmful and a rarely needed.
Many people believe that the cause of their back pain will be quickly identified by imaging, e.g. an x-ray or an MRI scan.
However multiple pieces of research now show us that scans only truly have value when serious pathology such as infection or cancer are suspected or potential fracture sites require identifying. Serious conditions such as these are rare making up 1% of back pain cases. The reality is that approximately 99% of back pain cases have no benefit in receiving scans.
The inherent danger with scans is that they will always show something. Research now feels is that
30% of twenty year olds will show a disc bulge with an MRI scan WITHOUT any pain
37% will show disc degeneration again WITHOUT pain
Factor in that these figures increase with age ( 84% of eighty year olds) and we can see that a scan will always find something going on regardless of the symptom picture.
The conclusion we can draw is that these normal findings are increasingly common with age. Indeed what many experts believe is that scans are detrimental to long term chances of recovery because of the clinical language used by radiologists in their reports. These often have associated negative connotations eliciting fear in the patient. Given our increased understanding of the biopsychosocial nature of pain we can easily see the ramifications of these scans and their reports.