MRI and Physio: Do you need one?


An MRI is often considered the ‘gold standard’ of imaging and diagnosing and it’s something that most of us are aware of or will have seen on TV. When used properly, it can provide much needed clarity and detail to aid with diagnosis and treatment – particularly for soft tissue injuries such as muscle tears and disc injuries.

However it’s also something that should only be used in very specific circumstances and never taken as gospel.

So how can an MRI help?

  • An MRI is a great way of confirming a diagnosis made in clinic – but it can’t diagnose a problem in isolation

When your physio makes his or her diagnosis, it’s as a result of a wide range of different factors, from the history of the problem, your lifestyle and routine and the different things that can aggravate the issue. Clinical testing is a key part of this process but it’s only one part of a much bigger process and an MRI can be useful in confirming or disproving diagnoses made following clinical examination.

  • An MRI can spot red flags or other issues that were not identifiable or spotted in the initial clinical exam

In some very rare occasions there can be problems that are more than musculoskeletal and an MRI can pick these up. This could be something more serious such as cauda equina syndrome or simply something that wasn’t identifiable in a clinical setting.

  • An MRI picks up a lot

In some cases this can be a good thing – as detailed above. But it also results in a high number of false-positive results – as high as 80%.

In some cases these findings can get stuck in your head and lead to overprotective behaviour for fear of causing more ‘damage’ – actually causing more problems from reduced movement!

Used properly, an MRI can be an invaluable tool to help confirm a diagnosis or pick up issues that are not identifiable in a clinical setting. But it’s important to use them in the right way – aside from the cost and the fact it’s not a pleasant experience, it picks up a lot more than you need it to and this isn’t always a good thing.

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