What Do my MRI results mean?
I hear this one a lot. Got my X-ray results, MRI results, CT results, Bone Scan results on my low back/ SI joint and they really didn’t find anything. What does this mean? What do my MRI results mean?! How do they relate to my pain?! Is sounds really bad… is it really this bad?
Usually when we go in for a scan we want an answer to that THING that hurts. What is the piece of tissue and the PROOF that DOCUMENTS why I hurt so freaking bad! When the scans come back mostly normal, many feel let down or if you were like me, even crazier! I just wanted someone to be able to point to something on a screen and say THIS – THIS thing here is the cause of your pain and we are gonna just take care of that and you will be right as rain again!
MRI results can be frustrating
You with me? You want that too, right? Might I offer, this kinda thinking tends to make our healing take longer…. we are often looking for a piece of tissue that can’t be found on imaging. What if… this is gonna seem crazy…. but what if you just knew your provider believed you and was going to make a plan to help reduce the very real pain and get you back to the things you love? Would that be ok?
I know in the end all I really wanted was to be believed and helped. I wanted to be able to help myself with guidance, but got some accidentally unhelpful advice along the way. Especially as my pain continued. We humans are super cool and very intricate. So is our pain. Pain is the body’s way of protecting it’s self from threat. That doesn’t make it made up or psychosomatic. It makes it a complex response to an intricate human being – YOU.
It is likely NOT as bad as the summary of the results make it seem! In the video belowI share a bit about common findings when you are looking for the cause of your Low back or SI Pain in imaging.
Things to note:
- SI pain is a part of low back pain. So don’t be worried if your MD or other medical professional is talking about your low back pain.
- Scans are ordered to make sure nothing scary is happening: fractures, tumors, or other rare and “big bad” things.
- It is normal to show degeneration at L4/5 and L5 /S1
- Degenerative Disc Disease / Disc bulges: No idea why they call it a disease, it isn’t – it’s just normal aging on the inside that starts as early as our 20’s! ( see links at the bottom for some of the research!)
- Generally MRI’s come back without any really clear findings – that’s GOOD!
- Check out myotomes and dermatomes if you are curious about the pain that follows spinal levels. a sign to worry is if a body part in the distribution doesn’t want to work at all – like foot drop watch here, not an explanation that your glutes aren’t firing – that’s not the same thing.
So what does this mean?
Nothing stands out on the imaging that isn’t “normal aging”. Why am I in pain then?!
You are most likely the proud experiencer of non-specific low back (butt) pain! What that means is not that you don’t hurt or it’s all made up. It just means that the specific tissue that is hurt isn’t identifiable. This is the lions share of most people’s pain. When pain continues past the normal tissue healing time (6-12 weeks in most cases) the pain is labeled as chronic or persisting. When pain has been bugging ya this long, the intensity of the pain is a poor indicator of tissue damage and much more about a keyed up nervous system doing it’s best to protect you.
Why is this good news?
Because is means the pain is changeable. Because even if you have had the pain for a long long time, it means it’s changeable and there is nothing REALLY big going on inside you ( like cancer or tumor and this IS important!)
The best “medicine” for non- specific pain is…
- Meaningful movement. This means doing things that matter to YOU.
- Some education about what contributes to pain and how pain works.
- Support! Family, friends, community – we all need it.
Please reach out. I’d love to try to help you out on your journey to move beyond your pain!
Ask me anything!
Drop a comment, send me an email, or join me on Facebook.
Some Research studies On MRI Results for those that are curious.
Pain Physician. 2017 Jan-Feb;20(1):E45-E52.
Incidence of Spontaneous Resorption of Lumbar Disc Herniation: A Meta-Analysis.
Zhong M1, Liu JT2, Jiang H2, Mo W3, Yu PF2, Li XC2, Xue RR3
Variability in diagnostic error rates of 10 MRI centers performing lumbar spine MRI examinations on the same patient within a 3-week period.
Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. Am J Neuroradiol. 2015 Apr;36(4):811-6. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A4173. Epub 2014 Nov 27.
There are lots and lots more like these out there. Happy reading!