Most people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. A number of those with low back pain will have X-ray or MRI studies in an effort to determine the cause of their pain. It is hard not to get discouraged when results come back indicating arthritis, disk herniation or degenerative disk disease. These medical terms can be scary if one does not understand how they fit in the big picture.

The reality is that imaging studies can give information, but they do not dictate how much pain someone has. Studies have shown that it is not uncommon for people without back pain to have positive MRI findings such as disk herniation. Similarly, while arthritis generally increases with age, low back pain typically peaks at middle age. So when the arthritis is at its worst, it does not necessarily mean that the low back pain will be as well. Furthermore, for those in pain, the findings on imaging studies are often not acute in nature. Arthritis and degenerative disk disease are conditions that occur over a longer period of time. This means that those findings may have been present prior to the current pain episode.

In physical therapy, imaging studies are obtained and considered as a piece of the puzzle to figure out how to improve a client’s function while decreasing their pain. Other things such as strength, movement patterns, joint mobility and posture are considered.

A thorough evaluation with a treatment plan based on the findings for each client is appropriate. 

A positive MRI or X-ray does not mean that all hope is lost for feeling better.

In rare cases, emergent care may be necessary because of serious findings. Much of the time, however, a conservative approach can be appropriate and effective in treating low back pain.

So, if you are dealing with low back pain and discouraged by positive imaging studies, contact your local Pro-PT office.