Back Pain: When is MRI Necessary?

Back Pain When is MRI NecessaryDo you know how many times you have hurt your back? Perhaps countless.

Low back pain is a common problem, so if you suffer from it, you’re not alone. There are a lot of factors you need to be aware of as it helps decide how the problem should be treated and how it can affect outcome.

MRI is recommended to see any abnormalities on the spine that could cause low back pain. However, in some cases, it leads to situations that suggest unnecessary surgery.

Back Pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common causes of disability worldwide. Studies show that 90% of the population experience spine symptoms at least once in their lifetime.

If you have back pain, the pain can also radiate to other parts of the body such as arms and legs. This may be because of the affected nerves and the body parts they reach to. The pain can become progressively worse and persist and travel farther from its origin.

Low back pain can be a result of a number of factors, including:

  • Poor posture
  • Inherited spinal deformity
  • Awkward bending or twisting
  • Overstretching
  • Prolonged periods of standing
  • Improper lifting or carrying of objects

Is MRI Necessary?

MRI or magnetic resonance imaging is a test that uses magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. An MRI is generally not required for new onset back pain. But in some cases, it is.

Simple abnormalities can be very common. A large study involved people of different ages with no back pain. Even if these people had no back pain, most of them were shown to have abnormalities. An example is that bulges or protrusions in people with low back pain seen by MRI are often coincidental. 60% of middle aged people without symptoms have disc bulges. Seeing these changes on an MRI is much more likely to lead patients towards surgery, which do not necessarily result in improvements.

Some of the degenerative changes seen on scans on people with new low back pain are not necessarily things to get worried about. Many of these changes often happen with aging like getting wrinkles or grey hair.

A harmless mass seen on MRI called incidentaloma is unlikely to be causing problems. Nevertheless, they may lead to further testing, more spending, more stress, and unnecessary invasive treatments. Patients who went through MRIs are much more likely to get into surgery which may not necessarily ensure successful results.


Whether you have gone through MRI, if things are steering you to surgical treatments, consider less invasive treatments first such as physiotherapy for back pain. Most lower back pain injuries will respond effectively to physiotherapy.

Treatment may vary depending on your diagnosis. Physios offer a range of treatments that have proven to be effective with back pain. These can be manual treatments and acupuncture. Your physiotherapist will also recommend some appropriate exercise and pain relief.

Ultimately, your physiotherapist will work to relieve your back pain and protect your back from injury, restore strength and normal range of motion, restore full function, and prevent recurring pain.

Suffering from back pain? Get help with any of our Perth physiotherapists. Call us today at 9444 8729!