You are MORE than an image! What does that mean if you hear one of us say that? Is getting an MRI before starting physical therapy needed? These are definitely a loaded statements, but we want to explain why we say it. Imaging is not the gold standard for most musculoskeletal injuries, but at times we even recommend you getting them. If you start with an image (before physical therapy) versus a detailed clinical evaluation, you may be in for a longer recovery journey than needed. Educating you with updated research and guiding you in the right direction is the main goal with this blog post. Dispelling some of the common misconceptions is important when treating your musculoskeletal pain, but there is a time and a place for images. 

Check out our Straight Talk Physio Podcast Episode on Imaging!

The Basics of X-ray, MRI, and CT scans

An image is a snapshot of you in a split second of time; unless the actual image is completed while you are moving and the machine records that. Images are completed in a set standard positioning depending on the body part or joint being examined. What if you only get pain in a certain range of motion, when you are doing a certain exercise, or after you workout? What if the set standard for the image does not portray that. The real value in imaging a body part is to make sure something more serious is not going on which in most cases, is very rare.  

If You Get An MRI Before Starting Physical Therapy It WILL Show Something

That sentence is not meant to scare you, but the technology is good at its job and most likely will find something for the radiologist to report on. Two of the most common body regions we see imaged are low back pain and shoulder/rotator cuff pain. Research shows that low back imaging has poor correlation to back pain overall. In regards to the shoulder, most active adults research shows they have some sort of rotator cuff tear and they do not know it – until they get it imaged. The tricky part is determining if the image finding is your pain generator. In other words, does that image actually show what is causing your pain?

Timeline and Cost of Imaging

In order to get an image you more than likely have to go see your primary care provider first. This requires you to spend money and time. Then, you have to schedule another appointment for the image to be completed, money and time again. To have your results read and discussed and potentially sent to another provider requires another appointment, more money and time. Physical therapists are trained to look for signs and systems that correlate with your pain and the mechanism of injury. We use specialized in-office clinical tests to determine the cause of your musculoskeletal issue. At P3, our main goal is to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment strategy started on day one when you work with us. 

Do I Need An MRI Before Starting Physical Therapy?

Instead of just using a picture to diagnose your problem, our Physical Therapists at P3 look at all of the factors involved. We look at the history of your issue and multiple tests to determine what structures may be impacted. If during our exam imaging is warranted we are trained to guide you through that process as well. Don’t waste your time and money by starting with an image; let a musculoskeletal health professional help you first. If you are wondering if you physical therapy will help you, reach out to us for a Free Phone Consultation!

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