Pain is a normal part of the human experience and serves as a warning sign of a potential threat to your health. Whether it’s normal or not, the experience of pain can be frightening and confusing to deal with, especially when imaging (MRI, X-Ray, etc) is involved. This guide was created to help you screen yourself for dangerous conditions, find peace of mind, and help you to take steps toward solving the pain that keeps you from living your life how you want.
How do I know if my pain is something dangerous?
A simple way to see if your pain is something you should be seriously concerned about is to do an analysis of red flags. A red flag is any sign or symptom that is seen as a key indicator of a potentially sinister pathology.
Recent trauma or fracture
History of cancer
Constant pain - does not vary at all over the course of a day
Pain that does not change with movement or rest
Rapid, unexplained weight loss of 5% or more within 4 weeks
Saddle anesthesia - numbness throughout the groin and buttock area
Significant change in bathroom habits, including incontinence
Fever and night sweats
Morning stiffness lasting longer than 30 minutes
Progressive weakness of arms and/or legs
If you clear a red flag screen, you can breathe easier. Your pain is still very real and you probably have a number of things to work on, but you can be confident your symptoms are most likely not being caused by something dangerous to your health and safety.
What about my MRI? I think I need surgery. It shows damage to my....
Whether it’s a herniated disc in your spine, a torn labrum in your hip or shoulder, a meniscal tear in your knee, or any other number of findings, MRI results tend to be poorly linked to pain.
Unless you had an MRI before your pain started and then again after, there’s no guarantee you didn’t already have those “abnormalities”; this is known as an incidental finding.
This is sometimes a difficult concept for people to grasp, so the data below has been added to help you make sense of things.
In both the cervical spine, your neck, and the lumbar spine, your lower back, the presence of natural, age-related, changes to your discs increases with age. In all of these research studies, MRIs were given to large numbers of asymptomatic people, people who had no pain, or history of pain, in their back and neck. What did the researchers find?
When looking at the lower back, multiple forms of changes to the spine were found, even in people as young as 20.
The results get even more interesting when looking at the neck, with 87.6% of people having some form of disc bulge or herniation throughout their life. Now, don’t start thinking this is something that’s just for older adults, 73.3% of males and 78% of females in their 20’s had positive findings in their MRI...without symptoms.
Essentially, the evidence shows that people with “normal” MRIs are actually the strange ones!
Rotator Cuff and Labral Tears:
Don’t think your shoulders and hips are safe from incidental findings on MRIs. While considering rotator cuff tears, 34% of all people, and 54% of people over 60, have rotator cuff tears and don’t even know it.
Have a labral tear in your hip? Congratulations! You can join 69% of adults in their late 30s. What about the shoulder? Different studies have different results, but 60-80% of all adults have some form of “abnormal” findings in the shoulder labrum on at least one side.
The evidence continues for knee meniscus tears and other structural changes, but you get the point. Now, keep in mind that these are MRI findings in people who had ZERO SYMPTOMS. What’s even weirder is that after seeing their MRI results, some of these people began to develop symptoms. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it.
So what do I do?
If you feel confident that you have no red flags, your best bet would be to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist that you trust. Doctors of physical therapy are well educated and practiced in screening for dangerous conditions, as well as movement disorders. They will be able to perform a more in depth analysis to identify the root cause of your issue, and help you to eliminate it.
Getting an official assessment is the first step toward conquering your pain and getting back to what you love to do, without restriction.
Do I need a script to come to PT?
All 50 states, New Jersey included, have some form of direct access law, meaning you can see a physical therapist without a prescription. In the state of New Jersey, there are no restrictions on access to PT services.
Who are we?
We are Next Level Physical Therapy, and we do things a little bit differently. When you work with us, you will always receive one-on-one care with a therapist you trust. Our clinicians are never double booked so their attention is right where it belongs, on you and your family.
We are open minded and driven to achieve superior outcomes. Following dogma in treatment can lead you to miss important details. We seamlessly connect multiple world-renowned systems to make sure that nothing is missed, and to streamline your recovery. Our four stage process integrates our four pillars of rehabilitation with our performance pyramid, and top-notch diagnostic exams.
What does this mean for you? It means we help our patients get out of pain and get back to doing what they love 2-3x faster than the industry average.
If you pass your red flag screen, we can help. Schedule a no pressure discovery session to see if you feel we’re the right fit for you, and to get expert advice about your pain. We will help you finally get some clear answers and discuss the best solutions available to you, even if it’s not with us. We understand that finding quality care is a challenge, that’s why the first session is always free.
What are you waiting for? Call us now to reach your Next Level!