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Why Physical Therapy Before MRI

Updated: Mar 23, 2023



When an individual experiences pain or discomfort, their first inclination may be to schedule an MRI immediately. However, it is important to note that physical therapy can be an effective first line of defense for pain management, potentially saving the individual both time and money. Here are five reasons why someone should consider physical therapy before getting an MRI.


First, MRIs can be expensive. An MRI can cost anywhere from $400 to $3,500, depending on the type of scan and where it is performed and what your insurance coverage is. Physical therapy, on the other hand, is less expensive and covered by insurance and can be more affordable for the patient. Moreover, physical therapy can sometimes resolve the issue without requiring an MRI at all, leading to even more cost savings.


Second, physical therapy can be just as effective as an MRI in identifying and treating the root cause of pain. In fact, physical therapy can sometimes identify issues that an MRI may not pick up on. Physical therapists can evaluate the individual's mobility, strength, and range of motion to identify any weaknesses or imbalances that may be causing pain. Physical therapists use directed special tests to assess structure and can often identify a pathology without an MRI. With our patients in our clinic MRI typically just confirms our findings in clinic.


Third, physical therapy is a non-invasive, low-risk option for pain management. MRIs require individuals to lie still for an extended period of time, which can be difficult for those with mobility issues or claustrophobia. Additionally, MRIs require the use of radiation, which carries potential risks.


Fourth, physical therapy can often provide immediate relief from pain. During a physical therapy session, the therapist can perform hands-on techniques to alleviate pain and improve mobility. This can provide the individual with immediate relief, whereas an MRI may take days or even weeks to schedule and review.


Lastly, there are certain situations where it may be appropriate to go straight to an MRI. If you see a physical therapist first they can act more like a general practitioner and refer you to a specialist to help you go through the process of getting and MRI much more quickly. We see quite a few cases where someone goes to urgent care or their primary care physician and is told to rest, ice, compress, and elevate. In most cases this is really not the treatment for a musculoskeletal injury. A physical therapist can get you started on safe exercises that will help you maintain your range of motion, reduce pain, and maintain strength as you wait for the MRI as there will often be a several week wait to get into a specialist and then get the MRI and your result.


In conclusion, physical therapy can be an effective and cost-efficient option for pain management, and should be considered before rushing to get an MRI. Not only can physical therapy save the individual time and money, but it can also provide immediate relief and identify issues that an MRI may miss. However, there are times where it may be necessary to get an MRI immediately. It is important for individuals to seek a professional after an injury and we always recommend getting PT first.

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