Take the results of your scans with a grain of salt

Can the often feared “disc degeneration” be like the crows feet of our backs, the wrinkles of our spine?

Over half of 30-39 years olds without back pain have disc degeneration in their spine and over half 40-49 year olds without back pain have at least one disc bulge1. The table below shows the percentage of people, by age group, that have common degenerative findings on MRI and CT scans, but don’t have any back pain (they are asymptomatic). These findings suggest that many of these degenerative features may be part of the normal ageing process and not necessarily always associated with back pain. This is not to say that all of these features are pain free for every individual, but more to suggest the use of caution when you are provided with the results of your imaging.

Considering that up to two-thirds of adults in developed countries will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime2, it is important to understand how we can manage it so we can continue to enjoy the activities we wish to partake in. For some people, the pain is posture related, for others it can be due to muscle imbalances – being either too tight or too weak. Once the root cause of the issue has been determined, you may then start rectifying the issue. This may also ensure that you can continue to embrace movement – our bodies are built to move and they get upset with us when we stay in the one place for too long. As the saying goes “motion is lotion!”. If you’re not too sure about the exact cause of your pain – book in to see one of our physiotherapists here.

1. W. Brinjikji, P.H. Luetmer, B. Comstock, B.W. Bresnahan, L.E. Chen, R.A. Deyo, S. Halabi, J.A. Turner, A.L. Avins, K. James, J.T. Wald, D.F. Kallmes, and J.G. Jarvik. Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations. Spine 20142.

2. Jarvik JG, Deyo RA. Diagnostic evaluation of low back pain with emphasis on imaging. Ann Intern Med 2002;137:586 –97.

Emma Thompson – Physiotherapist – Leap Health Rosny Park