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Do you need an MRI for back pain?

Getting an MRI of the back instead of physical therapy for back pain leads to a waste of $4,793!

Dr. Murphy here! Did you know that Physical Therapists can tell you more about what’s wrong with your body than MRIs?

That may sound like a crazy claim, but it’s true. A lot of times, MRIs, x-rays, and other medical scans leave Dr’s in the wrong direction – which is why Physical Therapists (at least GOOD ones) don’t use them.

What an MRI of the back DOESN’T show you!

Let’s look at Back Pain for example.

There are so many things that can cause pain in your back. You probably know the common ones (herniated disc, degenerative joint disease, pulled muscle) But here are some common causes that go overlooked:

  • Core instability
  • Diaphragm issues
  • Fascial restrictions
  • Hip capsule restrictions
  • Hip instability
  • Improper workout technique
  • Joint capsule restrictions
  • Muscle imbalance
  • Nerve entrapment
  • Pelvic floor issues
  • Pelvic obliquities
  • Poor posture
  • SI joint dysfunction
  • Strained ligament

If you’re suffering from any of these, but your doctor is only treating you for a disc issue, you will NEVER get better!

There’s an equally long list for neck pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, and hip pain.

“So I should get an MRI of the back and find out what’s really going on before I decide how to proceed, right?” 

I get asked often.


MRIs, scans, x-rays, and imaging of all kinds can cause a huge confirmation bias.

Over the past 5+ years, there have been multiple high-quality studies looking at MRI’s of the back in asymptomatic people each 50+. “Asymptomatic” means that these people have no symptoms – NO back pain of any kind.

The results? Over 60% of people age 50+ have some kind of degeneration, herniation, or bulging in their lumbar spine. 

Now remember, the studies were done on people who DIDN’T HAVE ANY SYMPTOMS!!

So if you’re having back pain caused by poor posture (or anything else on our big list from before), but an MRI of the back shows that you have a disc problem, your doctor is immediately going to start treating the disc problem – even though that’s not the cause of your pain!

You’re going to spend endless time and money (and maybe even surgery) to fix something that’s not even bothering you, and your back pain will continue until you fix your posture. 

What should you do in lieu of an MRI of the back?

Stop obsessing over your MRI of the back. Find a doctor (like a physical therapist!) who knows how to be objective and look for ALL the possibilities on our list, not just the common ones. You’ll get out of pain and stay out of pain when you address the cause of the problem, not the symptoms. 

We are happy to talk to you over the phone and answer any questions you have about this and your situation. We can offer you a recommendation of what we think is your next best step.

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