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MRIs Misdiagnose the Cause of Chronic Pain

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If you ask 1,000 people “Does arthritis, a herniated disc, stenosis or a meniscal tear cause pain?” all would say “yes.” Not because they have a full-factual understanding of these structures and whether it is even possible for them to elicit pain, but simply because this view has been programmed into our brains for the past 30 years. Since the advent of the magnetic resonance imaging technique (MRI) in the 1980s, arthritis and herniated discs have become so commonly diagnosed as the cause of pain that as soon as one of these conditions is identified on an MRI, people automatically assume it is the cause of their pain.

These ideas have been promoted by the medical establishment and pharmaceutical industry—and promoted in massive doses in direct-to-consumer advertising on television, radio and other media outlets. People are now so desensitized to the idea of these structural variations existing that they are happily willing to undergo surgery when they find that “all other methods have failed.”

But the fact is that there is absolutely no theoretical, clinical or scientific evidence to prove that these structural variations are the cause of pain in almost any case. I will now provide you some details and you can make up your own mind about whether these are causing your pain and warrant any treatment.

Let’s start with a historical review…

If arthritis, spinal stenosis, herniated discs, meniscal tears and every other structural variation identified on the MRI were the cause of pain, then why wasn’t the number of people suffering from chronic pain overwhelmingly higher before the MRI was invented? Clearly nobody is going to make the argument that these structural variations began in the 1980s just at the time they could be identified by the MRI. So if they have existed through the history of mankind, why wasn’t roughly the entire population of mankind having chronic pain before the very cause of the chronic pain was identified by the MRI? And if the MRI is identifying the cause of pain, why isn’t the number of people suffering from chronic pain or those addicted to prescription pain medication falling at a rapid rate? In fact, the numbers simply continue to rise the more treatment is provided.

Now let’s look at pain based on the time frame of those suffering with it versus the time frame of these structural variations…

Most people get their first MRI within weeks or a couple of months of when their pain began. And this is when they find out they have a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, arthritis, a meniscal tear or the like. Since the abnormalities are discovered at the same time that individuals are having pain, the assertion is that the structural variations are the cause of the pain. The next common assertion is that if the structural variation is the cause of pain, then the structural variation didn’t exist before the pain began.

This view is insane to me. These structural variations take years or even decades to develop. If you knew that the structural variation existed long before you had pain, then how could anyone conclude it is the cause of the pain?

Finally, let’s look at the relationship between those who have pain and those who do not. If these structural variations cause pain then, simply, those who do not have pain should not have structural variations. Yet 90% of people over age 60 with no back pain have bulging or degenerative discs, according to a study published in the journal Spine by researchers at University of Delaware and University of Pittsburgh. This statistic does not at all match up with the theoretical idea of structural variations causing pain.

Sometimes the biggest constraint on healing is letting go of what you “know.” Allow yourself to try a different approach that runs counter to your beliefs and decades of programming from the medical establishment. Let go of the MRI fairy tales, and open yourself up to break free from chronic pain.

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