The MRI Myth About Back Pain

Lots of doctors—and thus their patients—still believe that an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is helpful in diagnosing back pain. In fact, this testing is so standard that many of my patients come in and demand that I send them for an MRI. They think the pain must result from a disc or bone pressing on a nerve root and believe the MRI can be used to observe what is happening to the nerve. Stanley J. Bigos, professor emeritus of orthopedic surgery and environmental health at the University of Washington, explained the appeal of the MRI when he said, “The reality is patients want an answer, the doctor wants to get the patient out of the room and the hypotheses start to flow.”

For some reason, the studies done that refute the power of the MRI have not resonated. For example, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1994 reported that MRIs were conducted on 98 people who were symptom-free of back pain. Sixty-four percent of these people showed clear evidence of a bulging or protruding disc, and 28 percent showed disc herniation—spinal abnormalities that would seem to indicate severe back ailments. But because these people did not complain of back pain, the idea of diagnosing pain solely from an MRI is misguided. Doctors at the University of Washington in Seattle then concluded in 1998 and 2000 that MRIs resulted in a higher rate of specialist consultations and more surgeries but fewer beneficial outcomes. In 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association detailed a controlled randomized trial which proved that X-rays were better than MRIs for diagnosing issues of lower back pain and resulted in fewer patient interventions and ultimately fewer surgeries.

Why don’t MRIs produce better outcomes for back pain sufferers? It is because MRIs do not take the root cause into account. They serve only to bolster the notion that back pain is nothing more than the symptom of an underlying disease. Many conventional physicians and surgeons miss the true causes of back pain because they continue to focus on the easy explanation offered by high-tech imaging. All too often, the orthopedist who sees a herniated disc on an MRI decides that the only answer is surgery.

 When no structural abnormality is found, patients are typically sent off with a prescription for anti-inflammatory drugs or other pain-killers. Pain-killers are not real solutions. They are not a cure. They merely mask the pain. For years I have taught how well the body is interconnected. You can see how finding and fixing even a localized issue means that both the doctor and the patient are missing the bigger picture, including many potential causes of your pain. If your back pain is caused by a foot imbalance, an MRI of the back will not tell you this. If your back pain is caused by emotional stress or a digestive upset, an MRI won’t tell you this either! Localized issues can be improved—without surgery—by fixing the global issues.

So, when it comes to back pain, what are MRIs good for? They help diagnose infection, fractures, and tumors, and they are great at telling what you don’t have, as opposed to what you do have. But, ultimately, “true but unrelated” sums up MRI findings. They may find structural irregularities, causing the doctor to attempt to connect your symptoms to those irregularities. It’s time to renounce these unreliable findings! My model, which considers all of the possible sources of global pain, will tell you so much more about your body and why you are suffering than an MRI ever could. And with that core information can come an effective (and less invasive) solution—my very own Sinett Solution!

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