Most of our patients do want an MRI at some point, and I think it's a reasonable thing to do, but what we know from analysis of people with back pain and neck pain is the vast majority of people get better during a certain period of time. If you get an MRI too early, you've spent money and used resources without real benefit.
Most people who need an MRI need it for very specific problems:
- They have severe neck and back pain that did not go away after a certain period of time.
- They have significant weakness, or numbness, or some sort of reflex changes that is rapidly developing and rapidly becoming more of a problem. That usually requires an MRI.
- Some people have really bad problems where they don't control their muscles or control their ability to control their bodily functions. That probably needs an admission to a hospital or emergency room and an MRI.
If you don't have those situations, it's often prudent to wait. If you give it a few weeks, a lot of times you get better. You don't need the MRI, you don't need the expenses, and you can get on with your life.
There's another secondary issue which I do explain to patients on why they don't want an MRI: Oftentimes MRIs will pick up a problem that doesn't even cause you any pain. That can sometimes cause a lot of confusion for future problems, such as if you're applying for a disability policy, if you are trying to establish that there's a new type of injury, if you're trying to establish that prior history of health is very good, that kind of all gets clouded if you get MRIs that aren't very useful to you yet now there's information about you out in the world.
That information is available to people who may use it for not the best purposes for you.
So, please be cautious about deciding to get an MRI; the ramifications are much greater than you may think.