How an XRay can make your neck pain worse

Hey Hey!

Bec here at Total Balance. Let’s talk neck pain and x-rays

In the clinic, we are commonly shown X-Rays and even sometimes, people ask for us to write a referral for one.

We don’t mind X-Rays. Sometimes they are really useful.

Sometimes, they just aren’t.

Matter of fact, sometimes having an X-Ray on your neck can actually make your pain worse


Well, an X-Ray is a static picture in time. It shows the bones mostly. Each X-Ray angle is quite specific. It is great to see broken bones, fractures, narrowing on boney canals, arthritis changes in the joints and lots more boney stuff. What they don’t show is muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, vessels, nerves…. they don’t show how you neck moves…. or doesn’t move. But mostly, they do not show pain.

When we look at your neck pain, is your pain caused by bone? Most of the time the answer is no.

Neck pain can be caused by soooooo many pain producing structures. Bone is only one of them!

What we see happen time and time again, when you get your X-Ray back, 9 out of 10 times there is something the radiologist has found on your X-Ray BUT is that the thing causing your pain???? Majority of the time, the answer is no. It is a finding, yes, for sure. And this needs to be taken into clinical consideration with your management. But is this finding the cause of your pain? Most of the time, it is not.

Let me give you an example. We could send you for an X-Ray of your neck and the radiographer reports degenerative changes in the spinal joints of your neck. Degenerative changes, depending on your age, are normal age related changes AND they don’t necessarily cause you pain. Was this X-Ray useful? Well, no. We still don’t know the cause of the pain from this image.

So, that leads us to the question – how does an X-Ray make your neck pain worse? Well, 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.

Our advice… an X-Ray is great for when it is clinically needed to rule out those nasties. Cancer, breaks, stenosis. Nasty stuff that needs medical attention.

For everyday neck pain, most people just don’t need an X-Ray. If it does not change your management, you don’t need it. It has the potential to make your pain worse.

What do you need? Good management. Great management actually. Working through your history, examining not just your neck but your back, your shoulders, your jaw. Finding out WHY you have neck pain. Identifying those critical drivers that are the driving force behind your neck pain. Find those and we have the key to success right there! Then we walk and talk you through how to strengthen those areas of weakness while your osteo treatment focuses on those key areas and spacing out your treatments as you strengthen and feel better! Very rarely X-Rays are involved – but rest assured, if one is clinically relevant, we will not hesitate to refer you for one – 100%

So, do you have neck pain? Or do you have an X-Ray where you think all is lost? (I promise you, all is not lost!!!) Maybe it’s time to check that out or bust that myth that your pain is forever.

🙂 Bec


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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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