Does Damage Shown on Scan or Xray = Pain??

MRI spine

Scans can be very useful diagnostics tools and can point us in the right direction, but they can also contribute with unhelpful beliefs that we should be in pain. Scan results often do not correlate well with how someone feels and moves. Many people have dysfunctions revealed on x-rays or scans yet have no pain or symptoms at all.
Below are some examples of why care is require when interpreting scan results.

Intermittent Pain

In most cases, people will describe their pain as having varying intensity, and at times not there at all. This means there are times when your brain and nervous system is happier than the times you are feeling the pain – These “happy” periods can be extended through good management. In terms of a scan, an MRI or X-Ray will be unchanged from the times when you are in pain or not.


Degeneration is a term used to describe “wear and tear” that our body and its joints naturally experience through aging. Degeneration can begin to appear in our late 20’s and progress through all joints until death yet many elderly do not experience pain in every joint that displays changes. If you have one sore knee and one pain free, studies have shown the “good” knee may show just as much degeneration.


It has been shown that up to 87% of people in their 30’s have disc herniation’s, highlighting that this sort of movement or change to the disc is considered quite normal. Many people live with these changes yet never experience pain.  Disc bulges seen on an MRI is not necessarily a recipe for long term back pain.

 Pinched Nerves

Nerves are very strong, resilient structures, but can be very sensitive when aggravated. They are designed to tolerate stresses. A “pinched nerve” seen on MRI/CT may not be the main source of pain.  We sit on our sciatic nerve all day, and stretch nerves often without issue. Whatever our spine looks like on an MRI, chances are it looked like that the day before you had pain as well, as these changes take years to develop, as long as there was not a major trauma or incident.

What all of this tells us is that what we see on a scan may not be the actual cause of your pain.

At Hobsonville Physiotherapy we look at your whole body to locate the source of your problem.  We find a thorough assessment and understanding of how your brain projects pain is the most effective way of finding and fixing the under laying cause of your pain. We use an advanced problem solving system based on the latest understanding of neuro science along with a wide range of manual therapy, exercise and acupuncture techniques.

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Phone on 4164455