Do I need an MRI?

This is a question we get asked very frequently in our physical therapy offices. Here’s some info:

  • MRIs are expensive. The average cost of an MRI in the United States is just over $2,600. That being said, the cost to the patient is different based on their insurance coverage. Patients are usually charged a copay or are required to pay toward a deductible set by their insurance carrier.

  • They aren’t always accurate. As high as 90% of people over 60 years of age may have some finding on an MRI. This can include degenerative disc disease, disc narrowing or bulging discs. Many of these people don’t have symptoms. Although there may be a finding on your imaging, it may not be the source of your pain.

  • Time. By the time your healthcare provider can order an MRI, your insurance approves it (if necessary), the MRI gets scheduled and you are given the results, weeks have passed. The time you’ve spent waiting could have been spent reducing your pain and improving your function!

  • Comfort. An MRI for your lower back can take up to 60 minutes. When you’re having lower back pain, that’s a long time to lay perfectly still on a hard surface. Not to mention the noise and potential claustrophobia.

If I don’t get an MRI, how can I manage my lower back pain?

Find yourself a great physical therapist that is skilled in evaluating and treating the lumbar spine. Studies have shown that patients who seek the treatment of a physical therapist are less like to require surgery or injections and have made fewer visits to specialists and emergency departments within a year of the onset of their pain.

The cost saving of receiving physical therapy first is astounding. Patients can save up to $2,700 by seeing a physical therapist for their lower back pain, as opposed to waiting weeks to start their treatment. The longer you wait to address the problem, the more challenging it can be to fix.

In 2012, there were 291 million lost work days due to back and neck pain. Getting physical therapy first can help to reduce the number of missed work days due to pain, as well as improve function

and prevent further injury.

You have direct access to physical therapy. This means that you do not need a referral from your physician (unless required by your insurance). Physical therapy can help reduce cost, missed work days, and use of prescription medication. A skilled physical therapist can thoroughly evaluate and treat your lower back conservatively. He or she will develop a treatment program that works for YOU. How lower back pain affects your life is unique. Developing a relationship with your physical therapist can ensure that you’re receiving the highest quality of care with fast, long term results. Call one of our offices for your evaluation today!

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