Do I need a scan or imaging??

A very common question we get asked as osteopaths here at Total Balance is should I get a scan?

When you’re experiencing back pain it can be normal to want to understand what is going on beneath the tissues! Pain experienced in the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (mid back) or lumbar spine (lower back) can be due to a number of reasons. You may have tried to lift something heavy without proper lifting technique, you may have rolled over in bed quickly, you may work a desk job and sit for 8+ hours a day, or you may have tried to up your weights at the gym and pulled up sore. So when is it beneficial to get a scan, such as an x-ray, CT spine or an MRI?

Is it beneficial to get a scan, such as an x-ray, CT spine or an MRI?

In the clinic as osteopaths we are commonly shown x-rays, CT’s and MRI’s, and even sometimes we are asked to write referrals for them for our patients. There are times where a scan is important in helping us diagnose why you may be in pain, but there are times where a scan can be more of a hindrance. Why?

A scan is a static picture in time and will show us tissues such as bone, ligaments, muscle, intervertebral discs and nerves. A lot of the time, there will be tissues in your body that show some wear and tear or degeneration (by the age of 25 chances are you’ll have some type of wear through your body which probably doesn’t correlate to any pain at all!).

What we see happen time and time again, when you get your back scanned, 9 out of 10 times there is something the radiologist has found on your images, but is that the thing causing your pain???? Majority of the time, the answer is no. Don’t get us wrong it is a finding which needs to be taken into clinical consideration with your management. But is this finding the cause of your pain? Sometimes it may not be.

There is even some research to say that discovering these can make your pain worse. Why? Well, sometimes we find, you get your film and there are a few (sometimes lots) of findings on your report and you think “holy crap, my neck is rubbish”…. “there is so much wrong”… “and permanently wrong”…. “and I am going to always have pain”. Your brain hears this and sees this as important information… and attends to it. The truth is, pain is constructed entirely in the brain. This doesn’t mean your pain is any less real – it’s just that your brain literally creates what your body feels, and in cases of neck pain, your brain helps perpetuate it.

So scans…yes or no?

Our advice… a scan can be great for when it is clinically needed to rule out those nasties such as bone fractures and breaks and ruling out sinister causes for pain – the nasty stuff that needs medical attention. For everyday neck and back pain, most people don’t need a diagnostic scan. If it does not change your management, you don’t need it.

What do you need?

Good management. Great management actually. Working through your history, examining not just your neck and back, but other areas such as hips, shoulders and your jaw. Finding out the “WHY?” is the key to helping reduce back and neck pain.

Want more information? Give the clinic a call – we’re always happy to answer your questions! Our number is (03) 9773 8085! Alternatively, click here to book an appointment online.




This blog post is an educational tool only.  It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.

Phone: (03) 9773 8085

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