Do I Need an MRI After an Injury?
Have you recently been injured and are wondering if you need an MRI to find out what’s wrong? An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a type of scan that uses a magnetic field to create a detailed image of a specific area. There are a few situations in which an MRI is warranted, however in many cases they are not required to diagnose or treat your injury effectively. When determining if an MRI is appropriate, there are a couple of important questions to consider:
1. Will the Results Explain My Pain?
As previously mentioned, MRI scans produce high quality images and can show results that cannot be seen with other types of imaging. Because they are so detailed, MRI reports often describe findings that may not be related to the pain you’re experiencing from your current injury. In fact, these findings are often describing changes that are a normal part of aging and may not be causing any pain or dysfunction. For example, one study found that 80% of low back MRIs taken from a sample of 50 year-olds indicated the presence of degenerative disc disease (DDD), yet many of these individuals did not have any complaints of low back pain. This highlights the importance of interpreting MRI results in the context of your other symptoms (pain duration, location and intensity) and the findings of your physical assessment.
2. Will the Results Change My Treatment?
Another important question to consider is whether the results of the MRI will change your treatment. When you visit a physiotherapist, they will assess and diagnose your injury as well as come up with an appropriate treatment plan. Consider the case of the 50 year-old with DDD. Whether your physiotherapist or an MRI provides your diagnosis, it is not likely that the treatment plan will change, as surgery is not a common first course of action for this diagnosis and the focus is on non-surgical treatment options like physiotherapy. In general, if the results of the MRI are not going to affect your treatment plan, an MRI is not likely beneficial.
When is an MRI Necessary?
There are cases in which getting an MRI is appropriate. MRI scans are most commonly used for pre-surgical planning, but they are also used to rule out more serious conditions such as an infection or tumour. In the case of someone with low back pain, if you are experiencing any changes to bowel or bladder function or changes in sensation in your saddle region (buttocks, perineum and inner thighs), this can be indicative of a more serious condition and will likely warrant an MRI. As well, the presence of neurological symptoms (numbness, tingling, and/or weakness) can be an indicator that an MRI may be appropriate. Finally, your physiotherapist may refer you for an MRI directly or refer you back to your family doctor to get an MRI if you are not responding to conservative therapy. This will help to confirm your diagnosis and determine if a new course of treatment is needed.
We’d be happy to talk to you about your injury and how physiotherapy can help! Feel free to give us a call at one of our 3 Edmonton physical therapy clinic locations (Riverbend, Belvedere, Namao) or at our newest location in Sherwood Park.