Why an MRI Can Cause Fear in Patients with Low Back Pain

While diagnostic testing is an important part of recognizing serious pathology, it sometimes causes fear in people with acute low back pain and may slow their healing process and affect their prognosis. Many times, the results of a diagnostic test can “brand” the individual to thinking his or her low back condition is more serious than it is. As a result, the patient may then decide to reduce activity or even have unnecessary surgery.

However, some changes in the low back are a normal part of the aging process. In fact, these statistics reveal that people of all ages have experienced a “bulging disc” – not an uncommon condition as we get older – according to their MRIs:

  • 30% of 20-year-olds
  • 60% of 50-year-olds
  • 84% of 80-year-olds

But it is important to remember that the results of an MRI don’t necessarily equate to function or pain.

If the results of an MRI say something scary, contact your physical therapist. The latest research shows that if patients participate in physical therapy before other, more invasive treatment, they can reduce pain and improve their prognosis.


Brinjikji, et al. Am J Neuroradiol. 2014 Nov.