FAQ031: Why won't my doctor give me an MRI for my low back pain?

An MRI used to be a common test done for people who were suffering with low back pain.

What we know now is that sometimes the picture doesn’t give us the whole story.

Many people ask their doctor for an MRI to know the exact thing that is going on in their backs when they have back pain. However, what research has told us now is that it doesn’t matter. Unless there is a medical emergency that would require surgery very quickly or more drastic interventions, it doesn’t change. If the pain in your back is coming from a stenosis, an arthritis or a disc bulge, your medical management often goes the same way.

I think we are in a culture where we want to see the problem. Almost like it allows us to tackle it more head on? I don’t know.

What we know about the stuff on MRI and Low Back Pain

An MRI of your low back can be a scary thing. Sometimes there’s disc bulges and osteophytes. It is enough to make you want to sit and bed and not move because you’re afraid of making it worse. I know it’s scary but it doesn’t need to be. What we know now is that the picture doesn’t tell the whole story. There are many people who have NO back pain who are also going to show a disc herniation or a bulging disc on MRI. The same is true for arthritis in the low back and the SI joint.

In this video, we keep up with our FAQ series on low back pain by talking about why your doctor may not be sending you for that MRI (and when you might need one). It’s an extension of our series within a series on low back pain. Here are two more on spinal stenosis and disc herniations in case you missed them.

Until next time!


Christina Prevett

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