Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Will an MRI on my back tell me if my discs are fine?"
I was in a skiing incident and my back has been in pain since. Should I go to a radiologist folr this?
Back pain is one of the most common complaints that doctors deal with, and it is one of the most frustrating conditions that patients suffer from. Almost everyone will experience low back pain at one point in their lives and many people deal with chronic low back pain on a daily basis. Back pain after an accident, whether it be from work, sports, or a car accident, is especially common. And just as you ask, the question of when imaging should be performed is one that is frequently asked of doctors. After an accident most people receive x-rays of the back to make sure that no significant fracture or trauma is evident, but beyond plain film x-rays more advanced imaging has a very limited role. By far the most common cause of back pain is a lumbar strain or sprain, which do not show up on normal x-rays or other imaging. Your doctor will ask about and look for specific findings that suggest that more concerning conditions causing back pain. These so-called “red flag” symptoms include fever, severe trauma, sensation deficits, inability to urinate, or inability to control stool, among others. If these symptoms are present your physician may elect to request imaging such as an MRI. However, it is important to know that most back pain, though it can last for months, will get better without surgery or other significant interventions. Moreover, MRIs have the unfortunate tendency to show lots of small defects, which are not usually related to specific symptoms. The best person to evaluate your symptoms is your primary care physician and he or she can make the referral if necessary for more imaging. Good luck!
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