“I am not my MRI”. I have found myself telling this to patients so often, it has started to feel like a mantra of sorts. It seems to be a similar scenario each time. A patient has a minor injury, but it has been nagging for a while. They see the doctor, who then orders them an MRI. This is when “catastrophe” hits. The MRI shows a meniscus tear in their knee, or a bulging disc in their spine. Here is where the mantra comes into the conversation, “I am not my MRI”.
There seems to be a fascination among people with giving an exact “title” or diagnosis to an injury. If a patient goes to see a physical therapist for back pain, the diagnosis of disc herniation does not particularly matter. Stating that you have a herniated disc in your back does not address the fact that you may also have poor posture, tight hamstrings, poor biomechanics with lifting, or even possibly a herniated disc that has been asymptomatic (without pain) for years. We need to focus less on the diagnosis, or the findings in the MRI, and pay more attention to why we have the pain and how to prevent it.
An MRI may also give you false findings. In a study found in the New England Journal of Medicine, 100 participants with knee pain in only one knee were given an MRI. The MRI showed that 57 of the patients had a torn meniscus, but it also showed 36 of them had a torn meniscus in the knee with no pain as well. Just because the MRI showed, a torn meniscus does not mean that is necessarily the source of pain.
So now you ask yourself, “What am I supposed to do with all of this information that you just gave me?” The answer is simple, “I am not my MRI”. Findings in an MRI may be scary, and it sometimes seems to be used as a scare tactic for surgeons to rush you into surgery. The fact is, many back and knee pains can be healed with physical therapy. More and more insurance companies now require one month of therapy before they will even authorize an MRI, because they know that often times the issue will resolve with proper treatment.
If you are having pain or difficulty moving, instead of going straight for surgery, try going to your local physical therapist. They may be able to resolve your issues without an MRI or surgery, saving you a lot of time, money, and pain.