Do I Need An MRI For My Back Pain?

“Do I need an MRI to figure out what’s wrong, or before I come into physical therapy?” This is a very common question that we at Barbell Physical Therapy and Performance get asked by people who are dealing with back pain, and the good thing is the answer is usually no!

Many people think that they need an MRI to figure out what is wrong with their back and what is causing their pain. However, many studies have shown that a lot of the things that are found on MRIs, such as disc bulges, disc herniations, stenosis, and arthritis, are normal age-related changes a big portion of the time. In fact, people WITHOUT back pain tend to have these same changes on MRIs just as often as people WITH back pain. This is because back pain is complex, and what’s seen on an MRI only tells a part of the story. It leaves out a lot of important things, such as your sleep quality, nutrition, work, and life stress, exercise, etc. So while those things certainly can contribute to pain, they are only a part of the picture, and we usually don’t need an MRI to find them.

You’re probably thinking “ok, but if I don’t get an MRI, how will you know what to do?” This is a very valid question, and the answer is we figure out what to do to help get rid of your back pain by performing a thorough evaluation! First, we sit down and learn about the story of your back pain. We find out what makes your back hurt, what makes it feel better, what your goals are, how you like to train etc. Then, we take you through a physical assessment where we look at strength, flexibility, how you move, and many other things. Based upon all of this information, we are able to figure out what is going on, and what we need to do in order to solve your back pain and get you back to the activities that you love!

In fact, there have been studies that show that people who have MRIs done for their back pain as the first step end up spending more money, are more likely to undergo surgery, and just generally have worse outcomes than people who don’t get MRIs. 

Now, there ARE times when getting an MRI for your back pain is the best thing to do. These times are typically when you have symptoms such as loss of bowel and bladder control, sexual dysfunction, loss of sensation along your inner thighs, and progressive weakness of the legs. If these symptoms are present, then getting an MRI is absolutely warranted.

However, outside of those cases, you most likely don’t need an MRI for your low back pain or sciatica!

If you are currently dealing with low back pain, request a free phone consult with one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy and click the button below!

Barbell Physical Therapy and Performance is a physical therapy clinic in North Haven that specializes in helping lifters, athletes, and active adults in the greater New Haven area solve their injuries and get back to the sports and activities they love.


Ryan VanNieuwenhuyze

Barbell Physical Therapy & Performance

"We Help Active Adults, Lifters, And Athletes Solve Their Pain And Get Back To The Workouts And Sports They Enjoy Without Medication, Surgery, Or Stopping The Activities They Love."