Oof! This is big one. Perhaps we’ll make t-shirts or start a hashtag on twitter. YOU ARE NOT YOUR MRI. A lot of people should say this to themselves every time they look in the mirror. An MRI can give valuable information, but rarely tells the whole story. This is especially true with regard to disc issues. Lets zoom in to a typical story…
At some point, most folks will go through a spell of back pain. Maybe they got into a fender bender, or maybe they were just bending over to pick up the morning paper. Suddenly it’s a world of pain and stiffness. Next it’s a trip to the doctor or urgent care. A high dose of muscle relaxers and a pain prescription later and it’s off to imaging. After a week of crippling, stay-home-from-work pain, you’re following up with your physician. Pointing to a blurry image that apparently represents your spine, she states grimly, “You have a bulging disc at L4-L5,” and its pressing on your nerves.” Sounds scary! Next she directs your attention to a plastic model of a spine with something that looks like an oozing jelly donut between two of the bones. She gestures to the oozing jelly, “this is basically what has happened at your disc.” Her face is quite emotionless, like she does this all the time. And she does! Low back pain is one of the most common reasons for a trip to urgent care.
Back at home it’s just you, your back pain, and a disc of MRI images. Something about the MRI is burning a hole in your mind. It’s different than when you broke your arm in high school. That was painful, but you could see the problem, and you could watch it heal. This disc thing is different. It’s mysterious. It’s out of sight. It cost several thousand dollars and took a half hour just to get those weird images. The report sounded so bad. Besides the L4-L5 disc protrusion, it also said you have things like foraminal narrowing, modic changes, and osteophytes- enough to make your head spin! Worst of all, you were diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease.
Yikes. Let’s zoom back out. If you are like most of our patients, you probably have a few gray hairs on your head. Now, nobody likes going gray, but very few are truly distressed about seeing some signs of aging as they, well, age. Just like gray hair and wrinkles, the insides of our bodies age, and the vast majority of it is totally harmless. The trouble with an MRI is that it compares your images with that of an unblemished young-adult, making it seem much worse than it is. In fact, research has shown that many people without any back pain at all have quite scary looking MRIs. In other words, if you’ve been around the block a few times it’s almost guaranteed your MRI will reveal things like osteophytes, modic changes, narrowing foramina, even “degenerative disc disease.”
But not to worry! You are not your MRI! It is highly unlikely that your back pain is the direct result of what was found on your MRI. Happily, it is also unlikely that surgery or significant pain medications are necessary. For most people, a thorough, hands-on assessment by a physical therapist can reveal the real-time causes of your back pain as well as the road to recovery. The sooner this occurs, the less likely you are to develop chronic or debilitating pain. The longer you wait, the combination of unchecked inflammation, fear, and medical misinformation can become a steep, uphill battle.
Whether you got your MRI last week or last year, if you are suffering from back pain its time to take action! Your back wants to heal, your body just needs to right environment, movements, and nutrition to do so. Instead of seeing your pain as a calamity, consider it an opportunity to learn about your body’s innate healing intelligence. For many of our patients, what begins as an injury becomes the door to a whole new trajectory of strength and wellness.
At Village, we specialize in lower back pain (and in helping people who think there is more to the story than the results of their MRI). We are for people who are looking to live active and pain free lives despite what they’ve been “diagnosed” as. If you’re interested in learning more of booking a free consultation, fill out the contact form below.