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MRI Scans and Back Surgery Not Always The Best Decision?

Back pain is one of the most common physiological ailments for most people and it has been this way for centuries. Over the years, people have come to expect dealing with some kind of back pain but they’ve been told that medical treatment has begun to close the gap with better diagnosis and treatment.

While the previous statement is true, we believe that a lot of back pain that has been diagnosed by MRI machines and treated with back surgery, doesn’t go away. In fact, for many patients pain returns a few weeks after surgery and in some ways, it feels even more debilitating than before.

But why does this happen? And how does one get the right treatment for back pain? Here are some answers to these questions.

Do MRI Scans diagnose back injuries effectively?

The MRI machine is a marvel of modern medical technology and its role in a hospital is pivotal for numerous reasons. In terms of imaging, few medical devices can match the scope of the MRI but does it show the areas of concern in a back pain patient’s scan?

The answer might surprise you but in short, whether the patient complains of back pain or is a healthy patient, both their scans are likely to show some form of lumbar/disc impingement and degeneration. In a 2015 paper by Brinjiki et al, out of 3110 PAIN-FREE participants from 20-80 years of age:

37% of the pain-free participants in the 20s showed degenerative discs
68% of the pain-free participants in the 40s showed degenerative discs
88% of the pain-free participants in the 60s showed degenerative discs
96% of the pain-free participants in the 80s showed degenerative discs

What does this mean?

It means that most people, whether they are in pain or pain-free, already have some kind of back issue (this is a general term for a range of issues such as bulging disc, disc degeneration, etc) and the MRI shows this.

However, it doesn’t help a doctor diagnose the root cause of the pain that needs to be corrected surgically because he or she can’t determine if the issue was there before the pain or it is the cause of the pain. This is even more of a problem if the scan shows multiple back issues in the same patient, which makes it even harder to diagnose. Simply put, scans can’t tell us what hurts and we cannot completely rely on them as much as we currently do!

Why doesn’t back surgery cure my back problem?

There are many reasons for this but if we just combine the previous issue about the MRI diagnosis with a surgery that is based on it, we can see where the problems lie. If the doctor doesn’t diagnose the real root cause of the back issue and operates on a totally different part of the back then there is no way the pain will resolve itself.

There is a good chance that the surgery will help resolve a different part of your back trouble but eventually, you’ll end up at square one all over again. Sure, you might be better off fixing a minor issue that could cause trouble later on down the line but the fact of the matter is your pain has not gone away.

The second major concern with back surgery is that it is not a long-term solution if your back problem stems from improper biomechanical movements and habits. Many people suffer because they have postural issues while sitting, walking, running and so on but these issues aren’t fixed after you’ve had back surgery.

So your surgeon might even find the cause of your back problem and successfully operate on it and give you a few months of pain-free life but those bad habits will start bothering your back all over again. Without finding the solution to the root of the problem, back pain will return and worsen your symptoms.

Find the root cause and long-term treatment for your back pain in Bangkok

Diagnosing and working through a back issue effectively is done best with the help of expert physiotherapists. At Form Physio and Rehab, our team works closely with each patient to understand the nature of their pain and see firsthand what their mobility, range of motion and their biomechanics are, before producing a comprehensive rehabilitation plan.

Unlike an MRI scan, we aim to understand the nature and various possible causes of your back pain, while we help you through your customized physiotherapy program, we check to see how the pain is and make adjustments if necessary.

Our goal is not just to get rid of your pain but also to find any biomechanical movements or issues and help you correct them to live pain-free in the long-term as well. All you need to do is get in touch with us and set up a consultation and you’ll be one step closer to a pain-free back.


Kodchakorn Tawonsupajalean

Kodchakorn (Ked) Tawonsupajalean
Head Therapist at Form Recovery and Wellness

Kodchakorn received a Degree in Physiotherapy from Mae Fah Luang Univeristy in Chiang Rai. Kodchakorn is the Head Therapist at Form Recovery and Wellness and works closely with all the therapists from all departments to ensure that every single client who comes to us has the highest chance of success.

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