Your physiotherapists may refer you directly for an MRI scan. However, many don’t understand what the scan is all about.
What is an MRI scan?
An MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of organs and structures. It is often used to investigate the source of pain in spines, joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Should I have an MRI scan? There is no simple answer to this question, but the short answer is, probably not. The large majority of musculoskeletal pain cases (for example, low back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain) do not require an MRI.
Normally, a clinical diagnosis will be made by your physiotherapist (or other appropriate specialist) after examination, and a subsequent treatment plan is required to get you back to where you want to be.
Does an MRI scan guide treatment? An MRI scan rarely changes the course of treatment for most back pains or joint pains. The first line of treatment is usually conservative and this will successfully treat the vast majority of the problems — through exercise, activity management and non-invasive treatments.
When would an MRI scan normally be considered?
MRI scans are usually only necessary to rule out sinister pathology or to help plan for surgery. They are also used to investigate when problems fail to resolve after a programme of treatment. However, it is important to give your pain and any other symptoms a sufficient time to settle back to normal in combination with the right help and advice before considering any more invasive treatment, such as injections or surgery (treatments that sometimes are recommended too early because of wear and tear findings seen on MRI).
MRI the best form of scan? No, MRI may not be the right or the best imaging modality for your condition. There may also be times when you may be advised against having an MRI scan. The strong magnets used in an MRI scan can affect metal implants or fragments in your body.
Nellie Nthiga, BDM, Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre.