Imaging is undoubtedly one of the greatest tools to be developed in the world of healthcare. It allows us to take an inside look at the body and gives us plenty of information without needing to get the scalpel out! This may make it seem like a great diagnostic tool, however, it’s important to know about the pros and cons of imaging and when it is necessary.
Do you need an image?
When considering whether to get an image, the first question to think about is: ‘will the findings of the image change the way we manage this injury/condition/pain?’
Pros of imaging
In some cases, imaging can provide guidance in determining what kind of management is best suited to a particular injury or condition. This can save some people from exploring various forms of treatment and trying to find what works best for them. An example of this is when it is suspected that someone may have an ACL tear. The results of this image would very likely influence the management of this injury, given the effects that an ACL tear can have on one’s knee health, level of function and goals (a discussion for another time!).
Cons of imaging
In situations where imaging findings won’t change how the injury or condition is managed, getting a scan may actually lead to further harm. As we go through life and expose ourselves to the world, it’s only normal for structural changes to occur within our bodies. Many of these changes may never cause us pain but are likely to be found on imaging. Therefore, it is very easy to attribute someone’s pain to these changes when in fact, they may not be the cause of the pain! This can then lead us down a rabbit hole of trying to treat imaging findings that have no relevance to the clinical presentation of the patient.
An example of when imaging can be harmful is in cases of low back pain. An MRI of the lower back will commonly find structural changes that are generally age-related, but these are often a completely normal part of the ageing process and don’t always explain one’s pain. Over-analysing these normal changes that occur throughout the lifespan can be harmful to your body and mind, as there is a risk of treating something that does not require treatment, which can lead to greater harm.
Nonetheless, this isn’t to say that imaging for low back pain is always irrelevant! As always, it depends on the individual and for some, an image may very well be warranted.
If you’re wondering whether you need an image of some kind, come in and chat to one of our Physiotherapists for further guidance!
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