Benefits and Pitfalls of MRI tests For Back Pain

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) exams have been around now for more than a quarter century.  When they first arrived, they were greeted by the medical community and public as nothing less than the discovery of the Holy Grail.

The common perception of the lay public is that viewing an MRI is like looking through a window into the inner workings of the body.  Unlike X-rays, which can only visualize bone tissue for the most part, the advantage of the MRI is that it can provide an image of soft tissue structures, such as spinal disks, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.  An expectation quickly grew among both healthcare professionals and patients that, without an MRI, an accurate diagnosis of the cause of neck or back pain was not possible.

Research studies over the past 20 years, however, raise serious questions about this assumption.  The link below will take you to an online article from that gives a nice overview of this topic.  After looking at it, I hope you will think twice before asking your doctor (or accepting their recommendation) for an MRI at the first sign of back (or shoulder or knee or ...) pain.