Sponsored by Surge Physiotherapy – Is diagnostic imagining helpful or harmful?


Hardly a ‘perfect’ picture, Diagnostic Imaging: Helpful or Harmful?

Every day thousands of people receive results from their usually long awaited medical imaging such as MRI, CT Scan, ultrasound or x-rays. As humans we want to understand and (hopefully) attribute our pain and suffering to an “abnormality” but most often the results have negative connotations and cause more anxiety.

If you have ever had any imaging done you may be aware of some of these “abnormal” findings such as: tendon tears, disc bulges, osteophytes, degenerative and/or arthritic changes. This could easily leave someone feeling broken. But have you really ever been told the whole truth with regards to your imaging?

The truth is, “abnormal” findings on advanced imaging (such as an MRI) can be considered quite normal. Recent studies demonstrate that imaging reports, particularly MRIs, are inconsistent with regards to symptom presentation in asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals. This means that someone with, for example, low back pain can have symptoms such as pain and numbness/tingling but have a clean MRI report; whereas an individual with no low back pain can have, for example, a disc bulge on their MRI. It is possible for someone to have pain and imaging abnormalities but clinically we often find the two are unrelated. Simply put, with regards to medical imaging, people are rarely told what can be considered normal and what is not.

Why is this important? And better yet, why should you care?

Click on image to enlarge.

Our anatomy is not perfect or uniform and just because an “abnormality” has been found on an image doesn’t mean it is the root cause of your pain, that you are “abnormal” or that it needs to be “fixed”. Don’t get me wrong, advanced imaging has its place when prescribed appropriately. All health-care practitioners are taught to follow a certain set of criteria. However, studies have shown that there can be psychological disadvantages with regards to imaging result abnormalities. Early MRI can cause fear-avoidance behaviours that can intensify symptoms and prolong healing times. Imaging abnormalities often push patients towards surgical options, even if it’s not an appropriate treatment option. Early imaging often is more costly (when treating back and/or neck pain) due to medication prescription, injections, lost time at work, and delayed physiotherapy treatment.

You are not your MRI, ultrasound, CT Scan or Xray; what is important are your symptoms and the physical findings from assessment, such as movement and mobility, strength, and nerve function.

That’s great but I’m in pain,  … so now what?
Early physiotherapy assessment and treatment will help to reduce overall costs of injury and the need for surgery. A physiotherapist will be able to properly screen your symptoms and determine if further assessment by your primary health-care practitioner, such as a doctor or nurse practitioner, is required.  In the majority of cases your physiotherapist can provide you with the education, treatment, and appropriate exercise program required to treat your pain or dysfunction. At Surge Physiotherapy, we feel that it is crucial to treat you, not your MRI.

If you would like more information with regards to the research supporting the above, please feel free to contact me.

For more information or to book an appointment call 705-380-3312 or visit the website . Surge Physiotherapy is located at 33 King William Street, Suite 204, in Huntsville. Office hours are flexible with evening appointments available (3x/week). Email – [email protected]

Stephanie is a bilingual, Registered Physiotherapist with the College of Physiotherapist of Ontario and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association who is committed to providing a hands on, personalized approach to physiotherapy.  

Stephanie, a native to the Huntsville community, developed a passion for health and wellness during her youth while competing in cross-country running, nordic skiing, and track and field. Stephanie has always had a strong caring nature and fell in love with the physiotherapy profession while volunteering at a physiotherapy clinic during high school and university. 

Stephanie continued to build on her passion for health care by attending McGill University and completing her Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology. During her Masters in Health Science of Physiotherapy, completed at the University of Ottawa, she completed internships in orthopaedic clinics, hospitals, home care, and neurology centres.